Monday, October 11, 2010

Coming Out—Reflections

October 11 is National Coming Out Day, and I would officially "come out," except that I think everyone here already knows. I don't hide the fact that I'm in a committed, loving, caring, till-death-do-us-part kind of relationship. I shouldn't have to. Love comes from God, and it is quite possibly the most important part of being human. Love shouldn't have to be hidden. Love, caring, and commitment are rarely, if ever, wrong.

Yet there have always been folks who try to put limits on who can love whom. For a long, long time in our country (though not necessarily in other countries) there was a prohibition against interracial relationships.

People pointed to Bible passages for validation of their prejudice and intolerance (just as they used the Bible to support black slavery). And they argued that since they were in the majority, they should get their way here in America.

Thankfully, we have built-in checks and balances in our government, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutional right of a minority of U.S. citizens to marry the person of their own choosing. (Today, these would be termed "activist judges" because they stood up for the rights of the little guy against mob rule.)

The Catholic Church, interestingly enough, supported legalization of interracial marriages, since in their opinion, marriages should be up to the individuals concerned, and their God, and not be limited by civil government. It is a religious freedom issue. (See here for more on this topic.)

But until the "activist" ruling of Loving v. Virginia—in 1967—many states had laws banning "miscegenation" and interracial marriage.

I suppose that a majority of "majority" Americans don't think about this issue very much, since they don't see how it affects them personally, but as a lesbian, I think about it daily. I honestly do. I wonder how it can be that people fail to recognize that my love, my commitment, my willingness to be there for my partner, is no less important than anyone else's. Why can't we get on each other's life insurance? Why can't we get legal recognition for our marriage? We've been together since 1993.

It always comes down to semantics, it seems. I hear people use the term "traditional marriage," and I wonder how far they're willing to go back to define "traditional"—in biblical times, traditional marriage was basically a contract where a man purchases a woman, a vessel for his seed, and ensures a legal bloodline.

And I hear people say, "marriage is for a man and a woman," and I wonder what kind of marriage they're talking about. The marriage they had in their church, or the one they got down at the courthouse? Marriage has two components: the spiritual and the legal.

What a lot of people don't seem to realize is that we gay folks can already get married in our churches, by our own ministers, by progressive denominations, in our hearts, in our communities, before our friends and family, before our God.

Additionally, churches in our country are free to discriminate however they want—their rites and sacraments can be bestowed or limited however each denomination sees fit. The Catholics, I hear, have very strict rules about who they will and won't marry. I also understand there are some churches out there that will join two dogs in holy matrimony, kinda nutty, but there you go. Freedom of religion.

It's the trip to the courthouse—that piece of paper—the marriage certificate—that we want. We don't want a ridiculous, second-class, "separate-but-equal" category. If "civil union" or "domestic partnership" is good enough for me, then it will be good enough for straight folks too. If the terminology is such a problem, then I propose that all couples, straight and gay, get "married" or "wedded" in our houses of worship (optional, of course), and "civil unioned" in the courthouse—the document that matters for taxes, insurance, and other legal matters. What do you think?

I'm Sorry

There are times I can hardly stand myself because I'm not working every single day on behalf of my own civil rights. Yes, I'm one of those gay folks who considered suicide as an adolescent, and I have several friends who actually tried it, before the age of twenty. It saddens and angers me that gay kids today are still far more likely than straights to kill themselves.

I apologize for posting on a "political" subject, because I know you look at this blog for fun things—food and hiking, pictures of the critters in our yard, news about the renovations to Grandma's old house. But you have to understand, it's all linked together. And every once in a while, I have to spout off and communicate about things that really matter to me.

An Abomination

We all create a personalized "history" about our ancestors, based on what we know of them and what has seemed somehow significant. And because part of the purpose of this blog is to talk about what it's like to buy and live in Grandma's house, I want to share part of my own ancestor-story with you. Maybe it will help you understand some of what I've said.

Yes, there have always been folks to put limits on who can love whom, and this figures into the story of my great-grandparents Albert and Wilhelmina Thomas. They were my dad's maternal grandparents, immigrants from Germany. Albert created this house we live in; made it for my newlywed grandparents in 1930.

In my heart I can feel my kinship with Albert and Wilhelmina, although they were long gone by the time I appeared on this earth, because they, too, had been told their love was an abomination. Their precious love, their dear hearts, their promise to care for each other—an abomination. Their love, like mine, had disgusted people, had been belittled, laughed at, cursed. The problem was that theirs was a mixed marriage: He was a Protestant, she a Catholic. And it didn't help that he was of more humble means than her family.

I try to imagine what their relationship was like. From what I've heard of their personalities, I think that Albert won her over with a warm, good nature, and relaxed, fun-loving personality. She was more rigorous, straight-laced. I think she tried not to laugh at his jokes, but he knew her heart, and he always knew how to make her smile. That's what I think.

So they got married over there in Germany, and people had a fit. Her family, especially, detested the union. They said it would never work. They said that God hated what they had done.

And then their first little baby died, and of course that was a sign of God's displeasure—right? (We know that stillbirths and infant mortality were incredibly common back then, but you just can't argue with folks who are certain that they speak for God.)

They had a second baby, my Great Aunt Polly, who was fine, but Albert and Wilhelmina decided they'd had enough of the Old World and set out for the New.

Wilhelmina's family did not show up at the train station to see them off. A total snub. How hurtful! Can you imagine how much it must have hurt? Would she ever see them again? (Hint: this kind of crap happens to gay people all the time.)

They studied American history and civics on the boat, because they wanted to become U.S. citizens as quickly as possible. (And people wonder why gay folks all want to flock to places like San Francisco or Provincetown. Compared to here in the ironically named "Heartland," these live-and-let-live places provide refuge, rights, and a dignified existence for people whose only "sin" is to fall in love with the "wrong" person.)

I think about Albert and Wilhelmina a lot. I wonder if Wilhelmina didn't internalize some of the hatred that had been turned against her. I wonder how often they regretted leaving their homeland. I wonder, sometimes, why I don't pick up like they did, and move to someplace better, where we can have more civil rights, where we can fit in.

I could go on and on with this topic, but I leave you with a simple request that you speak up when you hear people spouting bigotry (of whatever type), that you practice tolerance, and that you cultivate respect for the mystery of human attraction and celebrate the gift of love.


michael saar said...

I have some loose connections with your family (and interestingly, your house) from the '50s. Please drop me a note and I will share.

Anonymous said...

I haven't figured this out yet-my email is

Julianna Schroeder said...

Hi, Michael, I e-mailed you on Thursday, Oct. 14. Looking forward to hearing your story!

Michael said...

Julie, I don't see it in my in box. Please try again