75 and Sunny

31 03 2016

It’s a cold, dreary evening – dark and lonely. I’m sitting here downloading photos from my camera onto the computer, and this song came on called, “75 and Sunny” by Ryan Montbleau. I think it was on a compilation CD, or maybe it was a free weekly download from itunes. Regardless of where it came from, it’s a song that truly resonates with me. He sings about wanting to not waste away our days drinking and obscuring reality, but to fill them with intention and purpose and full awareness.

At this moment, My heart is filling up with love! It’s overwhelming and wonderful! In less than a minute, listening to the chorus of this folk song, all these feelings well up inside of me, and I can’t help but burst out crying. I feel so lucky to be here, to have so many amazing people in my life!

 

i’d rather be 75 and sunny

than acting like i was 17 and freezing again

i rather be up early in the morning

than up late at night erasing memories of where i have been

or to be thru at 52, someday, stone faced and bleary eyed

you better believe i’m lookin for the moment, but my moment’s growin bigger by and by

 

river2Maybe it’s this song, or these beautiful memories before me, I don’t know why I suddenly feel this way. I just have so much love in my marrow! There’s no word to describe it. This wave of emotion just pours over me, like I’m sitting by a roaring river in the West Virginia mountains, feeling flooded with life. I have this strong connection, this energy radiating through me, coursing through my veins into my fingertips and the ends of my toes! I cannot say where it is coming from. I’m not immersed in nature. I’m nowhere special. There’s no energy vortex here. There’s no awesome beauty in my bedroom. There’s just me, this song, and these images of people I love.

 

snowflakes-in-the-night-sky-lisa-jayne-konopkaOutside, despite the early blanket of darkness, I can see that there are giant snowflakes falling. I notice them more than usual, perhaps because it’s early in the season, or maybe my senses are heightened at the moment. Sometimes I get this ‘high’ inspired by nature, and it feels a lot like this. Is it possible that I have found a way to manifest this same euphoria at will? Have I elevated my senses to some new dimension? What a joy it would be to find beauty and positive energy in every place, not just from natural marvels hours from my home! My chest aches with happiness, and all I can think is, “I love life!” I love LOVE! This feeling is so much more intense than ever before, and just makes me want to go shout it to the world, to share with everyone I know!

  I think I may have one particular person to thank for this unexpected rush of love.

Finding people who appreciate life is rare, but when I do, their energy bounces off my own in harmonic resonance, getting amplified, growing, radiating farther than ever before. Yesterday I had the great pleasure of spending many hours with my new friend, Bethany. It was our first time hanging out together, but it lasted for nearly eight hours of nonstop conversation and cooking together.

 

10400912_26605094757_3588_nI wouldn’t want to scare her off by telling her this so soon after we met, but I totally love her. How could you not??? She embodies love. Even if I’m the 27th person in line, I really hope that I get to spend more time with her someday. She elevates my own lust for life, and makes me want to be a better person. She inspires me!

 

One thing I’ve learned is that life is too short to waste time. It took me 8 years to tell another dear friend how truly important she is to me, and it elevated our friendship when I finally did share. I don’t want to make the same mistake twice, of waiting too long to be honest. I suspect that my new friend can handle the intensity of love that I am capable of dispensing, but I’m going to play it safe for a while. She’s already started making plans for us this summer to go on a road trip, so maybe she feels a fraction as much appreciation for my company as I feel for hers. I can be patient. She’s an amazing soul and worth waiting for. But, if she decides she’s sick of me in a month and never wants to talk to me again, I won’t regret a thing.

Just one day with her has enriched my life, and given me new perspective, which is more than I can say about 90% of the people I meet.

In fact, this experience tonight inspired me to write several poems. This one poured out of my pen like an April rainstorm in Austin:

“harmonic resonance”aura


my bountiful heart beats.
rings of oscillations
drift outward softly
as in a still lake
broken by a pebble’s weight.

lost in the middle,
they converge with another’s.
the two waves unite
in harmonic resonance,
growing stronger,
merging into one.

the rogue wave of our hearts,
the amplified rhythm
of our individual beats,
the coalescing surge of energy
could raise the titanic.

-krw
12.28.09

Today I want to share some of my writing from the year I met my soulmate.

This entry is from December 27, 2009. I had just met her a couple weeks earlier, and we met intentionally for the very first time the day before I wrote this.

It’s amazing for me to look back and see just how early I knew, although it took me nearly two months to admit it to myself.

She still inspires me today.

Namaste, Bethany. I love you more than words can ever tell.

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Freedom to Marry (now let’s not get fired for being gay)

2 07 2015

I’m married. No… for reals… I’M MARRIED.

Not just on my federal taxes.

Not just in the state of Indiana.

I’m married in ALL 50 STATES!!!

11540844_891563900926235_6369982575811555878_nSCOTUS RULES!

There is no way that I can express how amazing the past week has been. I’ve been counting down to this for over 2 years, since the 2013 ruling that granted federal rights to gay and lesbian married couples. My lawyer friend, Cindy, told me that it would only be a matter of time before the lawsuits from individual states worked their way up to the supreme court and- the way these things work- it would likely be June 2015 before it got ‘resolved.’ She was spot on.

June 26, 2015 was a day that the previous generation of LGBT folks thought they would NEVER see. They have endured countless discriminatory acts against them. They have been yelled at. They have been beaten. They have had to walk home in fear of an attack. They have been denied health care. They have had to watch their partners die from hospital waiting rooms. They have been turned away from funerals. They have been left penniless when unable to inherit their own life from their passed love.

They have had their love questioned. They have been told they are ‘disgusting.’ They resigned themselves to introducing their ‘friend,’ or- if they were really brave- their ‘partner.’ They didn’t think this day would every come.

11222214_891481457601146_5209594196564671646_o

MARRIAGE IS MARRIAGE

For three and a half years I have been married. Yes- LEGALLY married (as I often have to explain). No, it was in Buffalo, NY (because doesn’t every couple get asked WHERE they got married?!?) As a newlywed, I audaciously referred to her as ‘my wife,’ despite how weird it sounded as it echoed in the ears of my midwestern coworkers. I was determined to claim this word and normalize it. I often got asked to repeat myself, when people’s eyebrows wrinkled with confusion. “Yes, my wife,” I would reiterate casually. Because how can we expect people to get comfortable with it if they never encounter it?

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Today, our world is transformed. Marriage is marriage. Love is love. Typing these words still makes my eyes grow watery and my cheeks smile.

10644926_890978134318145_1803539000570143421_nWe have celebrated our marriage every time it was made a little bit more legal. It’s been kind of fun, I mean, how many straight couples can say they threw 5 parties to celebrate their wedding in the first 5 years of being married? (2011 Elopement in Buffalo + 2012 Reception in Ypsilanti + 2013 Federal ruling + 2014 Indiana ban overturn + 2015 Marriage equality). Now, there will be no more mandatory destination marriages. No more traveling to get married again when a new state passes laws allowing it.

And that’s not all! We have Divorce Equality too!! No more waiting for YEARS to get divorced because they aren’t citizens in the state they got married.

GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES

As a younger generation gay person, I am blessed beyond belief. I came out at age 29 and I never endured what my wife did. She was kicked out of her parents home at age 17 for being gay. She knows the real fear of being threatened. When we first visited Indianapolis and contemplated me taking a new job that would require us to move here, I wanted to know if we would feel welcomed. She wanted to know if we would be safe.

10455424_675962182486409_7473511755486069770_nI will never forget that Friday, after my full day interview went so well, we went to walk around downtown Indianapolis so that we could seriously consider this opportunity. We were waiting for the crosswalk signal on Delaware Street, and I naturally reached my hand over to clasp the hand of my love. Her hand instinctively jerked away from mine. I turned to look at her, clearly confused by her behavior. Before I had a chance to ask, she said, “I don’t know if we should be doing that here.” I turned my shoulders square to hers, stared into her eyes and said, “Honey, if this is NOT okay in this town, I want to know NOW, before we decide if we want to move here.”

We have been welcomed so warmly by our new city, that this story seems laughable today. We are extremely open, loud and proud. We are met with nothing but love by our neighbors. Even those who clearly didn’t know that we are gay, stammer to correct themselves when I edit their assumptions.

MOVING FORWARD

Let’s remember that marriage equality today does not erase the painful past. These emotional scars are deep for Bethany, and for millions of Americans like her. More importantly, our fight is not over. SCOTUS ended marriage discrimination, but not all discrimination. I can still be fired for being gay. I can be denied a mortgage. I can be refused a large number of basic parts of living, just not the legal piece of paper that affords a married couple all those wonderful rights.

11709658_891482884267670_569629766078156716_nThe marriage fight is over, once and for all. This will bring awareness. This will cause conversations and questions and dialogue about an issue many were embarrassed to discuss. This opens the door for more closeted LGBTQ folks to finally come out to their friends and family. This will let the next generation of kids know that they are EQUAL to their straight peers, and not something to be bullied.

So what’s next? We need to fix discrimination. Let’s start by amending the laws to reflect that LGBTQ citizens are at a much higher risk of being denied, bullied, ignored, and refused service. I’m not talking about RFRA, the black eye that Governor Pence gave the state of Indiana. I’m talking about our state constitutions. In many states like Michigan and Indiana, our local government has refused to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the anti-discrimination language.

In 1968 the Civil Rights Act brought equal rights language to many of us who faced discrimination. There’s a federal version and there are state versions. The original federal language made it a federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone … by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin.” They have been amended over the years to protect new statuses, like being pregnant (remember when women got fired for being pregnant as a regular practice?) So, you can’t be denied based on race, creed, color, religion, disability, age, sex, or veteran status, but you CAN be denied if you’re gay. Or fired. Or not hired. The list goes on.

11230777_890837747665517_5698155796869169047_nSo, “yay” for wedding cakes and all the happy couples I know who refused to get married until they could do so in their home states. I expect the USPS to be carrying lots of beautifully crafted wedding invitations to my doorstep in the ensuing months. For those of us already married, and, hopefully, ALL OF US, let’s get back to work!





License to Discriminate- RFRA

30 03 2015

rfra signingThis week there has been a tsunami of media attention on the state of Indiana. But not the good kind. No, the Final Four is still days away; Gen Con is months away (and apparently stuck in a 5 year contract to stay here); yet the streets are filled with people who are all riled up. We are getting national attention, not for any of the major events that Indianapolis hosts every year, but for good ole’ fashioned Hoosier discrimination.

On Thursday, Governor Mike Pence signed into law a bill titled the ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act.’ This bill has been highly criticized for legalizing discrimination against all gay people who live in, work in, or visit the state of Indiana. In advance of Pence’s private ceremony to sign the new law onto the books, multiple major Indiana companies stated their clear opposition to this, citing its discriminatory nature, and how it would hurt their ability to conduct business and recruit new talent to live in a state with this environment.

Salesforce-300x251Companies like Eli Lilly, Cummins, and the Indy Chamber were vocal about their opposition. Since Pence made the RFRA law, hundreds of others, nationwide, have raised their voices, and the repercussions of the RFRA are just starting to swell. Gen Con has threatened to relocate their massive annual convention. Angie’s List has cancelled plans for their $40M expansion, which means 1000 Indiana jobs lost. The Mayor of San Francisco has banned any business travel to our state. And CEOs of major corporations like Salesforce and Apple are publicly shunning us for our step backwards into the previous century.

Glaad1Social media has been blowing up over this, with people trying to understand the true implications of this law. Pence denies that the bill has anything to do with gay people, despite the anti-gay collaborators that stood close by his side during the private signing ceremony on March 26th, 2015.

I’ve found myself repeatedly clarifying details on post, after repost. In fact, I’ve even created this handy flow chart to help clarify what the RFRA law now allows.

Indiana Discrimination flow chart

Here’s the deal:

It’s not about gay wedding cakes. Yes, there have been some highly publicized lawsuits in the news where bakers discriminate against gay couples because they refuse to bake them a cake. And, no, I wouldn’t want them baking my cake anyways. I’d much rather have my deserts baked with LOVE, not hate. The same bakery probably refuses to bake cakes for interracial couples too.

rfra mapIt’s not about the RFRA. This is only a symptom of a larger problem. The reality is, this religious freedom law allows anyone to refuse services to anybody based on conflicts with their personal religion. in theory, this would mean that I could refuse to sell coffee to a Jew, because I’m Christian. Or deny childcare to a woman because she’s wearing pants, which is not allowed in the Mormon church. And why not kick out the veteran who is missing his legs, because it’s scaring the children in my diner, and that goes against my beliefs too? The problem is, THOSE acts, while technically allowed by the RFRA, are DISALLOWED by the state constitution’s Civil Rights rules.

But other states have it too, right? Sure, but here’s the difference: Most of those other states enacted these RFRA-eque laws in 1993 or soon thereafter. BUT, most of those states have also amended the civil rights definitions to include sexual orientation, protecting LGB citizens from discrimination.

We MUST amend the State’s Civil Rights definition. Indiana’s Civil Rights language identifies protected classes, in order to prevent discrimination. However, at least in this state, there is a gaping hole where ‘sexual orientation’ belongs, which enables discrimination.

It is the public policy of the state to provide all of its citizens equal opportunity for education, employment, access to public conveniences and accommodations, and acquisition through purchase or rental of real property, including but not limited to housing, and to eliminate segregation or separation based solely on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin or ancestry, since such segregation is an impediment to equal opportunity. Equal education and employment opportunities and equal access to and use of public accommodations and equal opportunity for acquisition of real property are hereby declared to be civil rights.

6a00d83451c45669e2016766065729970b-550wiSo, despite my religious freedom, I STILL cannot discriminate or deny service to anybody on the basis of those characteristics identified in the civil rights language. The only group excluded is LGBTQ. And THAT is why this law is being interpreted as specifically targeting this group. In an interview on ABC last weekend, Pence refused to address the civil rights definition. And so we stand, united to fight against this law. Determined to claw our way back to the 21st century.

round_car_magnetThe Irony? Pence is marketing the State of Indiana with the slogan of “Open for Business.” Yet his actions are driving companies away, generating a significant negative impact statewide. Both individuals and companies are boycotting Indiana, which harms even those businesses and communities that adamantly opposed the RFRA. It hurts all of us, and especially Indianapolis. I am fearful of the long-term effect that this will have on my local economy, and can only hope for enough upheaval to drive permanent change in our government, before I am driven to move someplace else.

Here in Indiana, we are working hard to repeal this discriminatory law. It won’t be easy. In the meantime, we are finding ways to show that Pence does not represent our entire state. Shop where you KNOW businesses aren’t bigots.

THE SOLUTION! The next steps MUST include an amendment to our Civil Rights protection clause. I am working with my district representative, my employer, and Indy Chamber to rally support for a bill to fix this problem, once and for all. Indianapolis’ Mayor Ballard is in full support of this long-awaited change! Our anti-discrimination language must be more robust to protect those who are discriminated against. We need to change this:

“race, color, national origin, religion, gender, disabilities, ancestry”

to something more along the lines of this (courtesy of Purdue University):

“on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin or ancestry, genetic information, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, or status as a veteran.”

Call or email your representative today to ask for change.





Post-‘Gay Marriage’: It’s Time to Shift Our Focus Towards the End of the Alphabet Soup

10 03 2015

 

 

Years of ‘Gay Marriage’ are Coming to an End

11037826_815847141831245_4294115214104965769_nThis year- 2015- is a really, really amazing year to be gay. Over the past 24 months, I’ve watched gleefully as unconstitutional bans on gay marriage have been toppling like dominoes, leaving a trail of joyful tears as hundreds of loving couples lined up outside courthouses to finally have their commitment legalized.

 

It’s not been an easy path to get here. Hundreds of remarkable, brave men and women have laid down their lives to stand up for my rights. We aren’t there just yet. In April, the Supreme Court is going to convene to consider whether individual states should be allowed to continue withholding legal marriage to their gay residents, also refusing to recognize those married legally elsewhere. We couldn’t have done this even 10 years ago. However, in the past 10 years, there has been an overwhelming and rapid reversal in public opinion polls on the issue of gay marriage. Now that more gay people are more visible, more straight people are realizing that they actually know someone who is gay. Poof! We have demystified the scary ‘unknown,’ just by being nice, normal, friendly people (who happen to be also gay).

 

(As a side note: I prefer to simplify life, using ‘gay’ as a generic term for all homosexual homo sapiens, regardless of gender. I may be a ‘lesbian,’ but I’m also ‘gay.’ When talking about the broader group of LGBTQ folks, I also am fine with ‘queer’ as a positively-reclaimed way to describe us all, though this feeling is not universal.)

 

IMG_5563When we celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision this spring, it will be a celebration unlike any you’ve ever seen. Rainbows will fill the streets, from New York to LA, and from Key West to Saugatuck! Thousands of American citizens will rejoice in what will be a landmark decision, finally recognizing the years of injustice bestowed to generations of LGBTQ lovebirds.

 

Discrimination goes well beyond the chapel doors, however, and the fight will not be over. We will still be turning the tide in countless small towns, rural communities, and deep south enclaves. Having the constitutional right to marry will be an enormous relief, and a financial barrier removed, as over 1,000 rights will legally be ours for the first time in the history of America! We are changing our culture, and acceptance is spreading, making it safer for future generations.

 

US-Marriage-Equality-January-2015The past 2 years have garnered significant publicity for the gay community, and LGBTQ groups have rallied to support these achievements and fight these battles that got us to where we are today. It has me thinking more about what life will be like Post-Gay-Marriage.

 

I mean, marriage is marriage. I didn’t get up this morning and eat a bowl of ‘gay’ cereal. I didn’t ‘gay’ drive to work. I didn’t ‘gay’ type these words. Someday, soon, my marriage REALLY will just be ‘marriage.’ I’ll even be entitled to divorce, too! (Not that I want that, Bethany. You’re my soulmate, and the reason I breathe).

 

The Alphabet Soup of LGBTQ

This is why I want to start a conversation about what’s next. Are all the gay and lesbian married couples going to sit back, relax, and quit fighting for human equality? Or are we going to expand our focus, and shift our gaze towards the end of that abominably long LGBTQ acronym?

 

Do you even know what LGBTQ stands for??

lgbtq_mainareaWhat started off as a fairly short list, has expanded over the years as we continue to learn and redefine what makes us unique. Today, this includes Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning. (Although I frequently transpose ‘questioning’ for ‘queer.’)

 

It’s typically the last few letters of LGBTQ that trip people up, because they get a lot less coverage in the media and in social circles. This is where I think we need to be looking to raise the bar in our human rights campaigns post-gay marriage. Chances are that you know someone who is gay, since 10% of the population in the U.S. is- that’s 1 in 10 people. But do you know how many transgender, or genderqueer people you know? It’s likely either zero, or more than a couple (because once you become an ally, you are a precious friend for many in dire need!).

 

leelah-alcorn_0In the past 4 weeks I have found myself sharing, posting, or commenting on so many news stories having to do with gender, and I’ve been distraught over just how little most people know about the subject of gender. Much like the fear that was assigned to gay people a generation ago, people today are scared of those who do not neatly fit into their idea of what gender means. There’s a clue phone ringing, people… it’s NOT binary! It’s not ‘boy’ or ‘girl,’ despite everything your 5th grade sex ed teacher told you. Gender is SO much more complex than what our parents could have even imagined. (More to come on this subject in my next post). As we learn more about chromosomes, we now know that there are many variations of gender. Unless you’ve have your own chromosomes tested, you can’t really say for sure which gender you are. How’s that for a mind warp?


For now, my goal is to get these conversations started, and keep them going. If you consider yourself an ally, thank you for supporting all of my gay brothers and sisters as we fight for our constitutional right to have the right to marry, and our marriages recognized.

My question to you is, do you consider yourself a gay ally, or an LGBTQ ally? It’s time to get educated, and step up our game. We have thousands of trans and queer brothers and sisters too, and their fight is just beginning.b4b846d3-3212-499b-935b-b6dae986e56e





“It’s okay, to be Takei.”

17 02 2015

Human Rights Campaign Los Angeles Gala Dinner - ArrivalsIn the single digit, February air on Monday evening, I bundled up to walk with a friend to Butler University for their Distinguished Lecture Series on Diversity. The speaker was George Takei.

 

I knew very little about George Takei just a few years ago. I was not a Trekkie, nor would I have even known his name if not for his persistent quotes, memes, and video appearances all over Facebook-land. It was only when a friend’s post prompted me to look him up that I finally figured out, “who is this Takei guy?”

 

When I agreed to go to the lecture, I wasn’t really sure what he would talk about. He clearly still enjoys referencing his Star Trek days, but he’s also a very funny guy, and a strong advocate for LGBT rights. I also had read on Wikipedia about his childhood internment at the WWII Japanese-American camps, but wasn’t sure if this was simply a factoid, or something he actually still spoke about. I had no idea if this evening would address marriage equality or Starship Enterprise, whether it would leave me laughing or crying. In the end, it was both.

 

Japanese-american_childrenOver the course of an hour, George Takei shared his own personal biography, starting with his 5th birthday. He began with his vivid memory of his American family being rounded up at gunpoint in their home, to be loaded onto a train and shipped from California to the muggy, barbed-wire internment camp in Arkansas. He recounted the many daily ways that his mother and father were treated as “non-aliens,” their loyalty to their home country completely discredited. After being shipped to another camp for refusing to sign a paper swearing that he “revoked his loyalty to the emperor of Japan,” it took 4 years of imprisonment before Takei’s father was handed $20 and his family released, with nothing else left to their name.

 

JapaneseAmericansChildrenPledgingAllegiance1942-2George spoke eloquently about the irony of being trained as a child to pledge allegiance to the flag every morning, to a country that had frozen their bank accounts, seized their home, and destroyed their lives for 4 long years. Those words, “…with liberty and justice for all,” still seem to haunt him. As he repeated that chilling phrase in the large auditorium to us all, I could clearly see that this moment had set the tone for this man’s entire life.

 

Although I had learned about these internment camps in school, I had never heard anyone’s first-hand account. I couldn’t help but listen to his story and think, “how awful to have known this kind of hatred, so young, to have felt the very real threat of discrimination before you could even comprehend that you are different.” What’s more, hearing about Takei’s childhood helped me to understand why a man, so proud to fight for freedom, held so much fear in his heart when it came to his own truth’s being exposed.

 

George_Takei_(5777853681)George Takei knew he was gay at age 9, but was silent, as most were in those days. Even after he met his partner years later, and attended AIDS walks as ‘allies,’ he could not come out of the closet about his own orientation. It wasn’t until 2004, when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed California’s approved marriage equality bill, that George finally found the courage through his anger to come out publicly. I don’t think anyone could accuse him of being silent ever since.

 

Hearing these stories reminds me just how much history I am living through, right now. How lucky I am to be alive TODAY. I wasn’t alive when Stonewall happened, but his words make me feel like I could have been there. I never lost a friend to AIDS, although my wife has lost many. I didn’t come out until I was 29 years old, and by that time, things were getting better for LGBT people in Michigan. I have never known, firsthand, the hatred and violence and discrimination that many of my LGBT ‘family’ have suffered through. I don’t have the same fear burned into my heart.

 

20141225_XCM_GCN.indd

Hearing George recount his life was amazing. These firsthand accounts won’t be here with us forever, and I feel lucky to have been able to hear about American history in the first person. It’s not just my admiration for him that grew, but my 1549530_808123595936933_3010165892456356179_nadmiration for ALL the people, gay, lesbian, trans, and allies, who fought for us. To be alive this year, in 2015, knowing that my marriage is now legally recognized by the federal government, and that SOON the Supreme Court will end this era of discrimination once and for all, fills my chest with pride, and my eyes with tears.


At the conclusion of the lecture, George stayed for a lengthy Q & A session. The two aisles on either side of the auditorium at Clowes Hall quickly filled up with excited listeners, eager to ask that one burning question of Takei. The second question came from a young man in his 20s, who was clearly nervous at the microphone. He thanked Mr. Takei, saying that we were all grateful for him being here, but especially him. Then he turned to his boyfriend, opened a small black velvet box with a ring inside, and he proposed. The crowd roared with applause, I was sobbing with joy, and my face was flooded with tears. I wiped my cheeks with both hands, wishing that my beautiful wife could have been there with me. She is the reason I came out of my own closet. She is the reason I have the courage to fight for equality. She is the reason I wake up every morning and feel like I am the luckiest person alive. While I am proud to be an active participant in changing our country, I hope that future generations can say, “I can’t believe your marriage was ever illegal,” and may they struggle to know this only from history books.26398_1410316064949_3457646_n





Fatherless for the Holidays

19 12 2014

373833_204277649654867_1135091092_nIt’s nearly Christmas, and, while I’m looking forward to spending lots of time with family, I’m also reminded of the one person I will not see this year. It’s been more than two years since I’ve seen my dad, and over a year since we last communicated. If you had asked me five years ago, I would have never imagined this future.

Five years ago, when I came out and told my family that I am gay, my dad was the last person I told. After my mom’s horrible reaction, I was petrified of losing another parental relationship. So I waited. And I schemed. I planned to introduce him to Bethany a few times first as ‘my friend,’ so that she could win him over with her personality before this reality distorted his perception of her. Eventually, I met him alone. We went for a chilly walk outside, my ears rang with the sharp sounds of crunching leaves and leftover snow, and I told him. His response was, “Whatever makes you happy. I love you.”

I was floored by my Dad’s acceptance, knowing how judgmental he can be of other people. He initially didn’t even like my high school sweetheart because he had long hair and an earring. But my dad had just gone through his own experience of being an outcast. After throwing away a great relationship with a woman who loved him, he wound up marrying a young woman in Malaysia, who is also younger than 2 of his 3 children. He lied to her own father about his age, then he lied to us about her age. He knew what it was like to feel judged and ostracized.

521536_401359169946713_95406638_nOver time, my dad’s acceptance of Bethany helped to strengthen our strained relationship. Bethany and his new wife, “Meg,” were able to talk about being new to the family. His new wife was very mousy and shy, and I struggled to connect with her. They had two young daughters together, just a year or so apart, and I never knew how to act around them. Bethany spent time doting on their youngest, knowing that I really don’t like babies. I waited patiently for the oldest daughter to begin walking and talking, which is when kids become interesting to me. I looked forward to spending time teaching his girls the way I taught my niece, Claudia.

379872_194295867319712_720454205_nBethany and I got married. We invited my dad and his family to our wedding reception, along with all of our other family. He did not come.

I began to notice that Meg seemed to grow even more distant. When we would visit to see them, she would find an excuse to leave the room, returning only when it was time to say goodbye. She was never warm to me, but something had changed. My dad stopped playing the guitar, which used to bring him so much joy. I knew that she was Muslim, and my dad’s drinking seemed to be getting worse than usual, along with his general depression. I really thought the joy of children would have changed his life for the better, but I suspected that their marriage was not doing well.

That Thanksgiving, I called my dad to let him know that we were coming over to visit, like we always do on holidays. He lives only a mile from my mom’s house, and I typically make my brother go with me to spend time with our dad two days a year. But when he answered, he said they were not home.

On our way out of town, Bethany and I decided to stop by my dad’s house to say goodbye, at least. His truck was parked out front like it always is, and I walked up to the door and knocked. I heard rustling inside and waited. Nobody answered. I knocked again, and my call was ignored.

Over the next few months, my dad frequently ignored my calls. On a rare occasion, if I called him in the afternoon when I knew he had been drinking already, he would answer, and we would talk as though nothing was wrong. He became less and less responsive, and I began to grow irritated.

My relationship with my dad has always been a bit one-sided. He does not call you, unless he needs something. Next fall, he needed me to draw up another scheme for him to develop property and finally relieve his years of debt. He drove out to Ypsilanti to see me, to talk about what he wanted me to do, but did not bring the girls or his wife. He winced whenever I asked about them. After that, I never heard from him again.

I began asking aunts, cousins, friends, if anybody knew how he was doing. I was his closest family member, and he had stopped talking to me. I was very worried about his mental state, and fearful that he was not talking to anyone at all. Indeed, none of his sisters had heard from him either. But then I heard back from an old family friend, Carolyn. She knew exactly what I was talking about.

Carolyn and I had a long conversation, and she told me that my dad confessed to her that Meg did not like us being around the girls. Because we are gay. I was floored. Even so, I still didn’t understand why HE was ignoring me. I’m his daughter. He loves me. Or so I thought. I tried to put myself in his shoes, and understood how hard it would be to be forced to choose between your daughter and your wife. I just didn’t understand why he never talked to me about it, in all the time that had passed. Why didn’t he just tell me?

I asked Carolyn to reach out to my dad, to have another conversation. She did. She urged him to call me, and to tell me the truth. When he didn’t call, then I called him. The reaction I got was a complete gut punch. He was angry at me. Angry because I had LIED and told people that Meg didn’t like that we are gay. He claimed that everything Carolyn had told me was NOT true, and that I was spreading vicious rumors. At that point, all reason had clearly left his body. I was furious at him. For lying to me, for avoiding me, and then continuing to deny the reality. He lives in a distorted reality, and I try to blame it on the alcoholism.

392008_204277769654855_263811023_nToday, I think about how lonely my dad gets this time of year. He’s no longer allowed to celebrate Christmas because his wife is Muslim and forbids it. He drinks to forget, which is also forbidden. Last year, my dad cancelled his phone number, and he picked up his family and moved to somewhere in Florida without telling a soul. I don’t know if I will ever get to see him again, or to say goodbye before he’s truly gone.

Most of all, I think about those two little girls of his. I feel sorry for them and the life they have been given. I hope he doesn’t do as much damage to them as he did to me. I wonder if they’ll even remember that they have 3 half-siblings from their dad’s previous marriages, or if he has been forbidden from mentioning his past in front of his new family.

61053_399925590090071_1086442852_nBefore my dad moved, I wrote him a long letter, forgiving him. I told him that I understood his dilemma, and I still loved him. I told him that I wished for him to be happy, whatever that takes. I wish that his happiness could include me in his life, but I have no control over that. It took me 12 months to heal the hole in my heart. I’ve been blessed in so many ways, to live a joyful life surrounded by such amazing people who love me. I know my dad still loves me out there somewhere, but around the holidays, I still wish I could stop by and hear him playing James Taylor songs on his guitar.





Swapping Countries- Leaving our Thai son for Thailand.

24 05 2013

It was bittersweet when we met Lori and Elizabeth for dinner. This was the night that they would take our son. Though he had only been living with us for 3 months, he was as much a part of our family as our beloved animals, whom we were also worrying about leaving behind. Veerephat (Bank), was willing to go live with these two new moms, because we were preparing to embark on a journey back to his homeland, Thailand.

We had been planning this trip for some time now, almost longer than the actual wedding, and he was the final piece to the puzzle. Having Bank come into our lives allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of Thai culture. Seeing his reactions in broken English, gave us clues as to how real or serious certain lapses were.

Like the time he was seated and I walked by, giving him a familial tousle of his hair without even thinking about it. He immediately flinched like a battered child, as though the innocent touch was a sad reminder that he wasn’t good enough. To our knowledge, this was not the case, but in Thai culture it is incredibly disrespectful to touch anyone on their head- even a child. Once I realized what I had done, I apologized deeply, and explained the meaning behind it in US culture, but have been sure to never make that mistake again.laos kids

We needed time to pack and mentally prepare for our journey, without worrying about homework and school lunches, so Bank left our home a week early. This also gave us time to answer any questions and help with the transition, though it went smoothly despite our availability. I think Bank was a little bit sad that we were going to his home country, though he was to stay here in the U.S. Although he loves living here, in America, he does miss home a bit, occasionally.

As for us, we were not even going to make it to his part of the country. We never saw a beach the entire time we were in Asia. We were bound for Northern Thailand, Laos, and Siem Reap in Cambodia. The rest would have to wait for another time.

laos pak bang shorelaos pak bangThe entire time we were gone- over three weeks total- we were reminded of Bank. He taught us so much about not only Thai culture, but things that translated to Laotian and Cambodian as well. We felt like we adapted seamlessly into southeast Asia, and there was no culture shock at all. I resisted the desire to use chopsticks unless I found some off pocket where locals were using them (often transplants from Vietnam). We removed our shoes before entering a restaurant in the small village of Pak Bang in Laos. We never raised our voices, even if we were angry or suspected we were being scammed. We learned to tell locals that their woven fabrics are “beautiful” in Laos’ native tongue.

When our trip was coming to an end, I wasn’t sure if our son would even be interested in coming back to live with us. After all, we sent him to live with another couple in a household that has a warm wood-burning stove, and where they cook meat in their house. Surely, he would beg us to stay rather than reluctantly coming back to our cold, vegetarian household. The other ladies even lived closer to school so he could walk or bike less in the snow.

One day, as we were relishing in our final week in Asia, I got a message from Bank while connected to the internet. He asked, “When you come home? Do you think I can come back stay with you again? Will you still want me? I miss you.” Bethany and I looked at each other and I actually felt my eyes swell with tears. We love our boy, and we felt honestly surprised that he missed us, and thrilled that he was as excited to see us as we were to share all of our stories with him. We counted the days to our return, in between treats like freshly scraped coconut ice cream and chilled glasses of red wine.laos chilled red wine








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