Saturday, January 24, 2015

How I Won An Election Without Even Realizing It

Last year I ran for a seat on my local city council and I lost by about 200 votes.  My town actually voted for almost the exact same city council, except they replaced the only person of color with a young, conservative male.  Just as soon as election day was over on November 6th, friends and supporters began to ask me if I would consider running again.  At that time I was fairly exhausted, pretty deflated that my town had spoken loud and clear that they were happy with the way things were, and I asked folks for a few months of hibernation where I could sleep in, enjoy the holidays, have absolutely no agenda. 

And now we're almost through January and I can't seem to come out of my "hibernation".  There have been council meetings, public forums, community celebrations, and I can't seem to find the energy or motivation to get back up out there to engage myself with a town that I care so deeply about.

For the past 3 years of my life, I've trained myself to wake up at 5 a.m. in order to fit all the non-work stuff in (like writing a blog or running for office) before my day job. If there was a rare moment of free time between scheduled appointments or committee meetings, I'd frantically run to the store to pick up groceries, or if I was at home, I'd cram in folding laundry, unloading the dishwasher, and making a crockpot meal in the 15 minutes before my conference call began.  Weekends and evenings were never truly mine - there was always, always, a committee meeting, a forum, you name it. There was NEVER a single moment of down time.  Ever.  I'm not complaining, it's just the reality of the life of a working mom who happens to have other interests.  I dare say that most of the women around us probably experience this very same intense juggling and multi-tasking. 

And suddenly, just like that, I had all of my mornings free......most of my evenings free........and by golly, my weekends were all mine again.  What's a girl to do?  Well, I kind of did nothing.  I slept in.  Made pancakes for my son on a SCHOOL day (Whoa.)  Went for long walks.  Picked up a book.  And I began to embrace the notion of living with no agenda.  And just when I thought I might be content turning into this selfish, lazy human being, magical things began to happen.  When I ran for city council, my main platform centered around civil rights, income equality, and economic progress.  I wanted to help pass a fairness ordinance that would protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination.  I wanted to help create a sustainable community that supported local businesses and met the food, housing and transportation needs of working-class Bereans.  I wanted to bridge the racial divide in our town that is so deep that people either deny that it exists, or are afraid to talk about it.

And so without the platform of a seat on city council, my voice was powerless.  Or was it?  Since November of last year, I have had weekly craft nights with my 7 year-old son.  This week we made paper Kenyan masks as we talked about a beautiful country in East Africa, the Maasai tribe, and Lake Victoria.   Since my weekends are free, our family has had more time to spend with our dear friends and chosen family, Ronnie and Eric and their beautiful and curious little girl that they are in the process of adopting.  Just last week I spent the entire Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday with my son - we made cards welcoming refugee children into the country and we participated in a Black history scavenger hunt at our local museum.  I wake up excited every Saturday, because we've been going on local adventures, picking up books from our public library, scouring local flea markets for the perfect Beanie Baby, drinking hot chocolate late at night at our local coffee shop, and waking up at ungodly hours just to get a chocolate-glazed donut from the new donut shop, run by the kind Vietnamese man with the cool Gears of War sweatshirt.  During Thanksgiving we welcomed a table full of friends from 3 different faith backgrounds in beautiful shades of brown and white.  During the Christmas break, our family carefully went through all of our toys and other material goods and collectively decided which  items should go to those who need them more than we do.

I wasn't exactly passing a fairness ordinance, bridging my town's racial divide, or creating a thriving local economy while helping to address income equality.  But in some ways I can't help but wonder if I've been minimizing the impact I can have right here under my own roof, with an evolving, and open-minded 7-year old sponge, who has an insatiable appetite to learn about the world around him, and how he fits into it.  And well, because I have my mornings, evenings, and weekends fairly open these days, I regularly pencil him in.  I may not be doing my life's work in city hall, but I'm slowly learning to see that I am creating ripples in a place I least expected to do so, in a place that perhaps has always needed me the most.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

To Gay Men Who Choose to Marry Women Because of Your Faith

Last week the cable network TLC announced a new special titled “My Husband’s Not Gay”, a reality show featuring Mormon men who are attracted to other men, but who choose to marry women.  Two days later NPR covered the story of a pastor who “felt called to marry a woman” and who consciously chose not to act on his same-sex attractions.  These stories were shared on the timelines of my Facebook friends repeatedly.  Each time the headlines popped up on my newsfeed, my heart sank and my soul was left feeling unsettled. Before I proceed, let me be clear:  there are few people I feel compassion for more than those whose acceptance by society is denied to the point that they feel forced – consciously or subconsciously - to succumb to the more “traditional”, more predominant lifestyle.  This is not what I’m talking about.  This is not what unsettles my soul. 

I’m talking about the men (and the entertainment and news outlets that sensationalize them) who publicly tout themselves as pinnacles of spiritual strength and discipline for making the choice to marry a woman rather than act on their same-sex attractions.  Men who are basically saying, “Look at my selfless sacrifice.  Look at how much I love my God.  If I can do it, you can, and should too.”  That does not settle well in my soul and before I go on, let me assure you, I am  uniquely qualified to have an opinion on this matter.

I am the ex-wife of an ex-straight man.  Well actually, he never was straight, but he fought desperately to be straight for the first 30 years of his life, because he didn’t know he had any other choice.  Because well-meaning people in his community, in his church, in his own family told him that his God would not, could not, love him otherwise.

We were together for nearly a decade when one day, just like that, he no longer had the strength not to face himself, and he left me.   Out of respect for the fact that he has his own story to tell, I won’t linger here for long, but let me at least say that to this day (it’s been ten years), I thank him for having the courage to leave me.  We've both gone on to find love and lead happy, fulfilled lives.  I am however, deeply saddened that he – that we – don’t live in a world that could have given him the space and courage not to marry me in the first place.   

While I consider my ex-husband to be one of my best friends, his journey towards self-acceptance (one that I have whole-heartedly supported), unintentionally had the consequence of greatly altering and forever changing mine.  I wouldn’t give up those ten years for the world, but I would be lying if I said the experience didn’t change me in profound ways.

And that is why I see no entertainment value in exploiting the real life experiences of others, by watching a train wreck in the form of a TLC reality show - why I cringe when I hear the coverage of the NPR story, reducing something so unimaginably complex to a single intentional decision “not to act on an attraction”.   As if the “chosen” wife and any future children won’t potentially be impacted by this act of “martyrdom”.  As if the man making the choice won’t spend the rest of his days silently battling himself for feelings he will never be able to quell, for feelings he shouldn’t ever have to quell.

While I have genuine compassion for men who feel that they have to choose this path in order to have a place in their faith communities, I find it problematic when these personal experiences are used to suggest that others can and should follow that same path. That one can and should reject their homosexuality simply by marrying someone of the opposite sex.

It implies that people have to make a choice in order to be a part of a faith community.  Simply put, it suggests that you can’t be gay and still love God.  Or worse, that God can’t possibly love you if you’re gay.  And I for one am tired of straight people hijacking religion.  If my ex-husband had felt accepted and supported within his faith system early on, he probably wouldn't have felt so pressured to spend a third of his life desperately trying to fit into a certain mold.
It’s irresponsible.  It puts young, not-yet-out, questioning members of the LGBTQ community in incredibly vulnerable and dangerous positions – to remain closeted, to feel shame, to become isolated, to feel pressured to change who they are, and then in turn face the serious emotional and psychological consequences of attempting to do so.
It reduces women to human shields whose main purpose in life is to guard their husbands...from themselves.  If you really believe that your faith prohibits you from being with a man, then don’t be with one.  Rather than treat a woman like some sort of personal training tool, why not go try to work out your spiritual system, take some time to figure things out?   But don’t suddenly walk around like a man of God just because you decided to use another human being to distract you from becoming who you really are.
I consider myself fortunate to have shared in the extraordinary journey of a dear friend who took three decades to finally learn to love himself.  But I also can’t sugar coat the fact that I not only witnessed, but personally experienced every excruciating pain and struggle of that journey.  While I have no regrets, I don’t wish this “marriage of convenience” on any gay man or straight woman.  And it's not because I can't respect the individual choice of a gay man to choose to marry a woman.  It's because I just can't accept that we live in a world where  certain belief systems continue to make gay men feel that they have no other choice but to marry a woman.