Monday, November 10, 2008

Marriage #2: The Marriaging

Our first marriage was before God and family on a small goat farm in North Carolina on October 11, 2008. Our second marriage (depending on how things go) was in the little mountain town of Ukiah, the county seat in Mendocino, California, where Emerson and I were honeymooning.

We set out early the morning of Thursday, October 16, before the sun rose to make the long trek over the mountains to Ukiah. We stopped for one of the best scones I've ever had in a little village called Boonville, the hippiest town in the hippiest place I have ever been (I do not exaggerate when I say that the entire county smelled like pot). We didn't have much time because we had to meet Josh Bowers, the guy we hired on craigslist to take pictures and be our witness.

Ukiah had only one main road and ironically the county seat was not on it. Instead, it was a few blocks off, right next to the county prison. As municipal buildings go, this one wasn't so bad, although it had clearly been a school at one point in its existence, which would explain the baseball fields behind it. It probably stopped being a school around the same time the building next door became a prison (although you never know with these mountain types).
The first thing we had to do was go into a large, open office that reminded me of my high school administration, and fill out a form with things like our names, our parents names, and verifying that we weren't married. We then had to swear an oath to the hippy behind the counter that everything we said was true to the best of our knowledge. It was a tad bit surreal. Then we had to wait while the clerk typed up all of our information. Meanwhile, we checked out the spots where people liked to get married.

Apparently one of the popular spots was in front of the building by the willow tree. That tree, however, was right in front of the garbage bin. Marriage #2 was already bizarre enough; it didn't need to be made more bizarre by a trash heap; that would come later on the baseball field. No, we decided to not get married by the tree between the front driveway and the refuse pile. Instead we would get married in the "courtyard chapel".

Being a typical municipal school turned county administration office, the Ukiah county clerk was able to provide us with a concrete courtyard surrounded by windows looking into various government offices. In the corner was a white wooden arch with absolutely no adornment or flowers or plants or anything. It was perfect!

Right before we started, she asked us if were planning on exchanging rings. Shit! We quickly took off our rings and swapped them so we could exchange them in front of God and Josh the photographer. The clerk read from her print-out of the marriage ceremony, her gold-spangled costume necklace jingling down to her navel. After our big gay wedding on the goat farm, standing in the bright morning sun in the courtyard of an old school next to a prison in front of a softball field felt a tad bit anti-climactic. After our beautiful vows in front of friends and family, declaring our lifelong commitment of love and fidelity in front of an amateur photographer from Mendocino seemed underwhelming; it was difficult to hold back the chuckles.

But somewhere, right at the end, when I was reciting those words that you hear countless times on television and in the movies, it struck me how monumentally important this moment was. It didn't take us 14 months to plan; it didn't involve the precise melding of a million minute details to be perfect; it didn't involve the approving enthusiasm of our family and friends. We had to rely on the actions of strangers, Josh the photographer, Kathleen the deputy clerk, the California Supreme Court, to bring our marriage to the country. Now, an entire state of strangers avowed that they had a stake in my relationship. It was pretty fucking cool.

When it was over, the clerk handed us a colorful certificate declaring our marriage. It may have been in Comic Sans. I don't think it made it back to North Carolina. But we remembered to order an official notarized copy before the big vote. So our marriage has the honor of being real in the eyes of those who love us and, however briefly, real in the eyes of the State of California. And although we will undoubtedly celebrate October 11 as our anniversary, October 16, no matter how fleeting, will forever remain an important part of history.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Strike Beard!

Ok, one more and then we'll have to stop...

It's getting to be winter and Emerson and I have both decided to grow beards again. But I've decided to not just have a beard, but a strike beard. And here is why:

We can blame the ripping away of my marriage on the homophobic black community. Or we can blame it on deceitful Mormons (which has the added benefit of painting the black community as easily gullible and sheeplike in their blind obedience of propoganda). But a large part of the blame needs to go with the major gay rights organizations. In part it is because the strategy of ramming gay marriage through the courts is not working. We ultimately one twice but the backlash has landed us 0 for 30 in constitutional amendments. There is a saying about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

The other reason the major gay rights organizations are to blame is their idiotic blind trust in the Democrats. If the HRC didn't spend so much money trying to get Barack Obama elected (and God knows he didn't need money), they might have been able to focus on state and local issues. So gay rights groups have gotten what they wanted; there are large majorities in both Houses of Congress and a president who deigned to mention us as part of a platitude in his acceptance speech (ohmigod! He talked about us! He talked about us!!!). The Democrats have complete control of the government. So let's see how long it takes the triumvirate of Obama, Pelosi and Reid to pass major pro-gay legislation. I'll take anything. A repeal of DADT. Repeal of DOMA. Passing ENDA. Anything.

But until then I won't shave my beard.

Because it wasn't just the evil Republicans who stole my marriage from me. In fact, an unprecedented 27% of self-identified gays voted for McCain. And it's time that the gay community woke up and started fighting for itself and stopped wishing that the magic Democrats will wave their wands and do shit for us after we get them elected.


Idiotic Justifications and Cold Comfort

I'm going to share some of the responses I've read - some directed to me, some written on blogs, some that just passed in front of my eyes going from one friend to another. I'm not going to parse them all, because if you can't see what's stupid or off-base about each of these things, then - well, then, you're stupid or off-base, and maybe this is a good point at which to sever our relationship.

Also - I want all of you who are irony-deprived to switch on your sarcasm detectors. I want you to see it coming before you're in it, knee deep.

The thing that these messages mostly share in common is the sentiment that gay people shouldn't be so upset because this is "just" a setback, it's minor in the context of Obama's win, that fair-minded liberals are in now way to be held responsible, or that we nasty old queens are just bitter/angry/self-loathing/uppity.

So here's my wall of shame, unattributed stupid things that people said and wrote yesterday about the crushing nationwide defeat of gay rights:

some of us feel worse than you do! please re-direct your booing and hissing to the morons of the state, not all of us.

Uh - right, the Democratic candidates, party and voters stood up for us so passionately. They were just overwhelmed by the irresistable Mormon army, right?

In general, courts are the wrong place to press these sorts of claims. . . . Unfortunately, too many groups have decided that the success of civil rights can be widely applied to circumvent the electorate on issues where there is no public consensus.

Oh, I must have misread the constitution and the 14th amendment - my bad! Voters are totally justifying in repealing civil rights just to punish the courts for being so pushy!

Whoa, let's not get distracted here [by the high turnout and 70% support for Prop 8 among black voters], folks. The real, true enemy in all of this in the Mormon church, perhaps the most despicable bastion of bigotry in our country.

The Mormons did not come to California and mark those ballots. The mind-boggling level of homophobia among African Americans is just one piece of this failure, but it is possibly the most shocking and disappointing piece.
I believe--and thought you did too since you actually had a wedding--that, while of course the ultimate goal is official State recognition and the accompanying legal rights, the State doesn't have to approve your union or anyone else's for it to be official and sacred. That's in the way that you live your life; not the labels you put on it.

Yeah - I had a wedding to demonstrate that I don't care if marriage is legal or not! And then I flew to California just as a way of saying "Look how superficial this legal marriage stuff is!" Boy, am I glad that my wedding didn't accidentally result in any legal responsibilities or privileges.

if a country that so viciously oppressed a group of citizens could, 40 years later elect someone from that group--then I have great confidence Emerson that we can overcome what voters in California and other states did on the ballot issues.

So - is 40 years a optimistic estimate as to how long equal rights are going to take? Because I have heard some generous 5, 10 and 20 year estimates. As mama used to say, "You can't hurry love!"

And finally, what I think is maybe the worst most gut-wrenching thing I heard all day:
Oh fuck! This is the first I've heard of it. FUCK!

Sorry I pierced your bubble of straight, white privilege with the bad news. I'll try not to do it again. You can get back to congratulating each other now. We'll just go back to our corner and cross our fingers that someday, somebody will give a shit about us . . .


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I'm So Bitter I Could Just Cling to Guns and Religion

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”

I find it utterly impossible to be happy for the country right now. While I never agreed with much of Barack Obama's politics, I was geared up and even psyched to witness the first African-American president. It is long, long overdue and brings us one important step closer to correcting century old wrongs that have permeated our society in almost every way. It was an historic event that I am utterly unable to find positive or to rejoice in.

Barack Obama may have won a decisive victory across the country but the decisive losers were gay Americans. The campaign that brought us “hope” and “change” brought neither of those things to the millions of gays and their children. The passage of all four anti-gay ballot measures yesterday underscores that while the voters may have shifted demonstrably in favor of the Democrats, they remain unmoved when it comes to the rights of same-sex couples. This cannot be blamed, as it was in 2004, on a conservative electorate enamored with a Bush political agenda; that was resolutely defeated. California, which Obama won by nearly a 15 point margin, banned gay marriage all the same.

And while it is unlikely that they tipped the scales, I find the overwhelming support for Prop 8 among African Americans appalling. The bittersweet irony is that Obama’s unprecedented mobilization and registration of voters and his historic candidacy that gave a well-deserved voice to a long since marginalized minority brought about inequality for another. The group of citizens who saw their hopes and dreams materialize last night simultaneously voted to strip those same hopes and dreams away from a different marginalized minority. Slavery is a horrific stain our nation which means it is even more important for those who have most acutely felt its ramifications to fight for equality under the law for all Americans.

So no, Mr. Obama, I do not question the power of our democracy; the people still have the power to strip away the rights of others. Before last night I didn’t imagine my fellow citizens could rip my marriage away from me. But as you say, Mr. Obama, America is a place where all things are possible.


Because It's Personal

A lot of people are pissed at me today. I've been pretty brittle. I'm not handling this very coolly. I'm ruining people's fun. Whenever I've seen or heard sentiments of celebration , I've made it a point to interject:

"What a great night!" someone says.
"Not for gays," I reply.

Would it be so hard for people to acknowledge that? And why do I keep hearing the words I had no idea? You should have known. Stop patting yourself on the back.

There's no reason for the defeat of gay rights to detract from the historic victory that occurred yesterday. That's simply not where my head is, where my heart is. And, frankly, I don't think it's disrespectful to keep pointing it out.


Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Gay men and women across the country, people whose lives are dedicated to service, virtue, and generosity were stripped of equal protection under the law, their second-class citizenship reaffirmed by voters of both parties in Florida, Arizona, Arkansas and possibly California tonight. I sat in a bar filled with whooping, gloating Democrats, apparently pleased to once again have loyal gay liberals as their cannon fodder. I wanted to cry, but instead I got angry and shouted.

I shouldn't let myself be bitter, because bitterness is self-destructive, but I may allow myself these feelings for a while. I'm mad as he'll, but I'm supposed to keep taking it? I have not one kind word for America right now. You betrayed us.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hope, Desire, Secrets and Meaning

Desaray’s early morning post today – and her slow, scary, exciting and mystifying approach to the Friends community – set me to thinking about prayer. Election day – filled as it is with conflict, with the thirst for power and prestige, with self-delusion and self-congratulation – empty as it is of quiet, reflection, honesty and generosity – is a really good day for reflection.

So, please be patient as I type for a while about these things: Prayer and weddings, prayer in weddings, prayer after weddings and prayer that puts weddings in a new light and new perspective.

Weddings – no matter how secular – are still built on the foundation of archaic prayer services. Yet, prayer is not one of the words that we hear a lot in planning weddings. It’s an elephant in the room. Related words like blessing and of course vow are commonplace – they stand for prayer without making a big deal about it.

The Knot has just five references to “prayer”: three of these are under the rubric of “requirements” for Catholic, Protestant and Jewish ceremonies; one is a Celine Dion song; and the last prayer is one that was answered with a good photographer.

The Knot is no one’s standard of serious intellectual or spiritual involvement, but I think it’s fair to say it dimly reflects the zeitgeist.

It’s not surprising that prayer should be a bit of a taboo in the matrimonial-industrial complex. For one thing, planning a wedding is so often about “getting it just right,” which is impossible with prayer – when prayer is “just right,” that usually means it’s scripted, stilted or hollow. Prayer’s outcomes are unpredictable. They are neither right nor wrong. They often look like failure but feel like success. A wedding ceremony as ambivalent as this is unlikely to “impress” anybody.

Another ideal of wedding planning is making it “personal,” or customized. It would be hard to get prayer right according to this standard. For many people, the most authentic and meaningful prayers are the involuntary ones that flow out of hope, despair, grief, fury, ecstasy – in short, vulnerability. These prayers would be inappropriate (or, at least, very uncomfortable) for a wedding, no matter how intimate and personal it might be. Consequently, the "personal" prayers that couples tend to choose are treacly.

For those of us who are religious but getting married outside a church, asking people to participate in religious prayer is delicate. Inside a church, with a clerical celebrant, a marrying couple has some cover. “These prayers are not really our words,” they could say. Or, more affirmatively, “These prayers are a lovely, old-fashioned tradition.” “These prayers don’t quite reflect our beliefs, but they are part of the bargain for having our beautiful wedding in this beautiful space – and maybe they’re not so bad, since we got to revise them a little bit.”

I don’t think we got prayer right at our wedding. We were close, but not quite there. Our readers and co-celebrants weren’t entirely comfortable with the language, although they were good sports. They saw it (generously) as “our day,” and they gamely did their part to deliver what we requested. Still, I wish we had collaborated with them more. Talked more. Prayed together. Invited them more deeply into our personal prayer lives so they could get the counterintuitive connections between our “personal” spirituality, and the public signs and language of the ceremony.

Sometimes – more than sometimes – just going through the motions of prayer is good - as good as getting to that deep, dream-like state of prayer, the state that prayer strives for, in which one is in communication with hidden parts of one’s self, and with hidden parts of the world, and they are forgiving one another. Practicing prayer not only prepares us for those extraordinary moments, but it also has good, objective outcomes of its own. It is energetic.

In retrospect, looking back at the last year, I wish that I had spent at least as much time in the practice of prayer as I did in the practice of foxtrot. At the same time, I am not regretful. Our wedding, at sunset, on the cusp of autumn, opened up new channels for my prayer life, and reopened some that I had been neglecting. With a new, renewed family, the time and space for having and creating memories, I am refreshed and eager to get down to the good work of prayer.

I have some tools that I use for prayer. Maybe it is indulgent or boastful to write about them in this forum. Maybe it is helpful.

My criteria for choosing these over the course of my life has been that prayer tools should be easy to do but challenging to my feelings and beliefs, and they should have evidence of tradition and inspiration.

The “Suscipe” prayer from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola is one of these. It is easy to find a good/correct rendering online. But, I learned it a bit differently from my spiritual director in college, and I like my shorter, simpler version:

Take, Lord, and receive all that I am and have. You have given it all to me, and I give it all back to you. Just give me your love and your grace, and that is enough.

Another prayer I learned in college is one that I didn’t think I could use or accept, because it seems so . . . prosecutorial. This is the Orthodox Rosary (Chotki) Mantra, known as the “Jesus Prayer.”

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

The last prayer tool that I want to share – because I’ve gotten very long-winded here – is the Avalokiteshvara Mantra, which you surely know already:

Om Mani Padme Hum.

I sometimes just repeat it or look at it, like a pure mantra. Sometimes I alternate the mantra with a prayer to eliminate both anxieties and seductions, like this:

Om Mani Padme Hum.
To be without worry.
To be without peace of mind.
Om Mani Padme Hum.
To be without screwing up.
To be without getting it right.

And so on. This prayer is like a bloodhound for detecting secret fears. Other times it exposes my "goods" as addictions.

So – what are your tools or prayer, reflection and communicating with hidden parts of yourself?


Monday, November 3, 2008

Living in a Calgon Commercial

There are many good reasons to eschew wedding gift registries. To have them is really rather greedy. If there are household items one really needs, wouldn't it be more prudent (and ethical) to cut back on wedding extravagances and buy those things for one's self? Shouldn't we, after all, have contributed most of our wedding budget to fighting injustice, and asked our guests to contribute their gift money to similar causes?

This is the utilitarian conundrum that philosophers like Peter Singer demand we confront. As important as it is to strive for moral clarity in resistance to both culture and our own impulses, there is some soft consensus among ethicists that scrupulous devotion to moral purity produces diminishing returns for investments of anxiety, isolation and intellectual paralysis.

In other words, one may achieve greater good in a life characterized by self-acceptance, companionship, reflection and pleasure. This is how I can declare that there is a universal good in wrapping myself with a fantastic bath towel.

We installed new bath linens over the weekend, having received them as gifts off our Crate & Barrel gift registry. The bliss - as if I had never dried myself before - was immense. Oh gods, oh venerable Pallas! If I am not to see in my life the accomplishment of full human equality under the law, then I think the feeling of Organic Turkish Cotton after a warm bath will comfort me for a long time.