Mawwage . . .

After much internal deliberation, I changed my Facebook profile picture this week, going with the Peanuts version of the red HRC equal sign (gotta love Peppermint Patty, Sir).
I’m not usually one to jump on such bandwagons—I don’t know if I’m trying to remain hip and aloof or if I’m apathetic, but I’m not a joiner.  Typically.  My whole life has pretty much been about not belonging, not joining, being outside/other. I’ve been going back and forth on gay marriage . . . not that I don’t believe that gays and lesbians should have the right to marry—we definitely should have that right.  
I’m just not quite sure why, exactly, we want it.  Oh, I know, I know—it confers upon us the rights that every person in an intimate partnership should have.  I get that. I do. I want those rights, too. But do we have to get them through the institution of marriage?

Think about it. What’s so great about marriage? Besides the rights, I mean. And why should we have to rely on marriage to confer upon us basic human rights? Marriage is both a religious and a patriarchal institution. The fact that we have to buy into it in order to share birth, life, and death events with our lovers/partners/co-parents is just plain ludicrous. Insulting.
When I was in graduate school way back in the mid-80s, my girl friend at the time and I had a commitment ceremony.  We planned to raise a family together. So we sat in a circle with some close friends, cast a pagan circle to the South, North, East, and West and promised to “love and honor each other’s growth and change.” A friend of mine at the time, a lesbian-feminist, a dyke if ever there was one, asked me why I wanted to get married. It’s just mimicking the patriarchy, she told me. Marriage is about women as property, she said.  Women as chattel. 
I saw our commitment ceremony then as sort of a fuck you to the patriarchy—which is sort of how I saw myself as a lesbian as well.  As painful as being closeted and as hard as it was to be invisible as a lesbian, I got a charge from being a stealth lesbian, from flying under the radar. I feel kind of the same way about marriage now. I didn’t ever see myself as buying in to the patriarchy because we weren’t.  We were taking a hetero ritual and turning it on, if not its head exactly, at least on its side, an action that felt subversive.
So much of my life has been lived subversively, on the down low. Under the radar. And for good reason—life above ground could be dangerous: emotionally, physically, psychically. I’m having some trouble letting go—I feel a bit like a mole just coming to the surface. Kind of pissed off about all of the noise and that it’s so bright up here, and annoyed that the rest of the world has decided that we are worthy of the attention.
I feel like “you know what? We’ve taken good care of ourselves so far, no thanks to anyone else. We’ve come together in crisis, we’ve marched bravely in the streets in spite of what the rest of the world might think, enduring shame and refusing to take it anymore. Who are YOU to think you can even debate my most basic rights?”
We have all the paperwork we need to guarantee our future together: powers of attorney, wills, joint ownership of the house. We have taken it upon ourselves to ensure our future, as much as anyone can ensure the future. So why, I asked myself, do we need to be granted the right to marry?
Why do we need a law? I have to say, it’s hard for me not to feel like straight and privileged culture is deigning to let us in, saying “oh, well, I suppose, if you insist, you can come and sit at the adult table with us grown ups, us normal people. Just, you know try to behave while you are here.”
So, I changed my Facebook picture to the red equal sign because, even after I had this internal rant with myself (now external—I know, I couldn’t keep it to myself, it needed air), I think that we need equality. Period. We are all different, but we are all equal and deserving of the same basic human rights, and apparently, we are going to have to continue to legislate the obvious because no one seems to be giving this shit away. 

Imagine

John Lennon said it best:  Imagine no religion. It’s easy if you try . . . no hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine.  I try to imagine what my life might be like had I not been subjected to fundamentalist christianity between the ages of 5 and 21.  Those 17 years more than any in my life shaped me indelibly. Those years of being labeled a sinner who would most likely face eternal damnation burning in hell still color my life. Even more than 25 years after I decided I could no longer subscribe to the tenets of christianity.

Last Wednesday evening,  I sat with a group of women, all writers, all of us contributors to Beyond Belief: Women in Extreme Religion, an anthology of stories about women’s experiences getting into, staying in, and getting out of fundamentalist religions:  Mormonism, Judaism, Islam, Catholicism, Scientology, the Unification Church, fundamentalist Christianity, and others.

Each of us read an excerpt from our story, and as we went around the room, a deep sadness overcame me (that and a not irrational fear that an angry god might smite us for talking smack about him). Sad about the potential wasted, the time wasted, the energy wasted—all the ways in which we’d been shamed, subjugated, stigmatized, separated in the name of god. Imagine growing up female and never feeling shame about being a girl, a woman. Never having to hide: our bodies behind burkas, our brains and intelligence behind our bodies. Imagine life as a woman without the imposition of religious constraints.

What could we have achieved, each of us, I wondered, had we been free to follow our natural impulses?  If we had been encouraged to embrace our talents and truths rather than forced to shut ourselves off from the world, to shut ourselves down, to hide our true selves because our religions taught us our very essence—our loves, our bodies, our desires, our thirst for knowledge–offended some made up god. Eventually, we all  managed to overcome the limits our various religious experiences imposed upon us, to come to an awakening, an awareness that we would never have a genuine life within the confines of these religions.  But what had our lost time cost us, I wondered?

What might we have accomplished if our  energies all those years had been channeled toward, say, science?   Instead many of us worried constantly about going to hell, expending our resources both literal and emotional, on impossible reconfigurations of our minds and bodies. What if instead of having to be vigilant against every carnal thought and deed, I could have spent those years, oh, I don’t know, learning to play the drums or studying computer programming? What if instead of worrying about proselytizing and “saving”  my neighbors, I had reached out across common interests and laid foundations for lifelong friendships instead of worrying my god would cast us all into the fiery pits of hell. Imagine.

As we each read our excerpts, sex emerged as a dominant theme.  So much time and effort expended in our struggles to come to terms with our bodies, our sex, our sensuality. Our natural way of being in the world.  Why, I wondered is religion so preoccupied with sex? Why so much devotion to not-sex?  What better way to control people than by creating fear about the most basic of human instincts?

I was at a writing retreat last weekend, in a workshop on writing about sex, and one of the participants posited how crazy it is that our (judeo-christian) culture prefers to pretend that “good people” don’t have sex despite all evidence to the contrary.  Religion’s powerful constraints spill out into culture and impact everyone, not only the believers, which is one of the most annoying and dangerous aspects of extreme religions: that misguided notion that there is only One Truth.

We only need to look at history (yesterday, two weeks ago, 500 years ago) to see clearly the evils perpetrated by extreme religions.  Where could all of our energy go if we weren’t fighting for rights that religious leaders want to take away? DOMA. The Inquisition. Joan of Arc. Matthew Shepard. A woman’s right to choose. Westboro Baptist Church.

What else might that energy have cultivated had it not been hijacked by the holy?

Imagine.

Imagine

John Lennon said it best:  Imagine no religion. It’s easy if you try . . . no hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine.  I try to imagine what life might be like for me had I not been subjected to fundamentalist christianity between the ages of 5 and 21.  Those 17 years more than any in my life shaped me irrevocably. What happened during those years color what I do still, more than 25 years after I decided I could no longer subscribe to the tenets of christianity.
Last night, I sat with a group of women, all writers, all of us contributors to Beyond Belief: Women in Extreme Religion, an anthology of stories about women’s experiences getting into, staying in, and getting out of fundamentalist religions of many stripes: Mormonism, Judaism, The Moonies, Catholicism, among others.
Each of us read an excerpt from our story, and as we went around the room, a deep sadness overcame me (that and a not irrational fear that an angry god might smite us for talking smack about him). Sad about the potential wasted, the time wasted, the energy wasted—all the ways in which we’d been shamed, subjugated, stigmatized, separated in the name of god. Imagine growing up female and never feeling shame about being a girl, a woman. Never having to hide: our bodies behind burkas, our brains and intelligence behind our bodies. Imagine life as a woman without the imposition of religious constraints.
What could we have achieved, each of us, I wondered, had we been free to follow our natural impulses?  If we had been encouraged to embrace our places in the world rather than forced to shut ourselves off from the world, shut ourselves down, hide our true selves because our religions taught us what we felt was wrong—our loves, our bodies, our desires, our thirst for knowledge. We all have managed to overcome the limits our religions  imposed upon us, but at what cost, I wondered?
What might I have accomplished if my energies all those years had been channeled toward, say, academics instead of directed constantly at worrying about going to hell? What if instead of having to be vigilant against every carnal thought, I could have spent those years, oh, I don’t know, learning to play the drums or enjoying each moment, guilt-free instead of feeling pressured to proselytize so my god would smile upon me, so my god would not cast me into the fiery pits of hell. Imagine.
 The red thread of sex ran through most of our stories, which was a little surprising, given our diversity as a group—each of us spent so much time and effort struggling to come to terms with our bodies, our sex, our sensuality. Our natural way of being in the world.  Why, I wondered is religion so preoccupied with sex? Why is so much devotion to not-sex?  We can see how well suppressing those natural urges and biological imperatives has worked out for the Catholics, after all. 
But, back to religion and wasted time. Oh, sure, I am what I am because of my experiences, and I’ve got lots of rich material thanks to years of being repressed and, frankly, terrified at times that my basic humanity was enough to condemn me to an eternity of damnation. But what else might I have been? What else might that energy have cultivated had it not had to be engaged in a religious jihad against my very own nature? 
Imagine. 

A Pivotal Moment: Memoir is Made of These

Twenty years ago I spent a long weekend at a workshop/retreat that fundamentally changed my life, or at least served as a pivot point in my journey. I had one incredibly emotional moment that weekend—a moment that has stayed with me all these years, through tremendous changes and ups and downs in my life.

One of my favorite parts of this retreat was that it was silent, a fact the participants did not know going in.  We could talk only during the workshop sessions, and not with each other, but to the group as a whole. The food was intentionally less than optimal for those few days as well. And every morning we had to run a mile.

But, I digress.  One evening, the retreat facilitator led us through some guided imagery and we were to be constructing our future home.  What would it look like? Where would it be? Who would be there?

And here’s the part where I burst into tears:  My future home was warm, with dark wood and candles, and inviting comfortable furniture, and it was full of many, many children, children that looked like my children.

At this point, the imagery had taken over and I was just a recipient of this vision.  I wept for probably a good fifteen minutes, maybe more (it’s been twenty years—details are fuzzy), but I know for sure that tears and snot rolled down my face uncontrollably.

I did not understand then why I had that vision nor why I reacted so emotionally to it. The tears were neither sad nor joyous, just bursting with raw and uncontrollable feeling. Looking back now, I understand I was weeping because my vision was so radically, radically different from my reality.  I wept for the pains and joys I had yet to experience on my path to my vision.

Writing my memoir these past 18 months has prompted all manner of self-reflection (the cynics among us might say navel-gazing—there’s a whole other blog), and I’m finding much of that reflecting to be awkward, if not downright painful. So, I was sort of happy when recent events coincided to prompt me to remember this image.

My youngest daughter’s biological brother (both of my kids are adopted) recently moved to our home state and last weekend came to have dinner with us—he and his wife and their four children.  This was the first time I’d met her brother, though she had spent time with her biological family (including her birth parents) over the past few years.

 As the day of their visit drew closer, I grew calmer—which is not really my MO. Usually I ramp up into a bit of a frenzy before such events. There were going to be ten of us, including four children, going out to dinner. I remained calm, grounded even. Even as the day grew closer and we had to redo the plans, I rolled with it, strangely confident that dinner would be what it needed to be.

 And it was. I was home, surrounded by children that looked just like my daughters, surrounded by family new and old and new again.

A Pivotal Moment

Twenty years ago I spent a long weekend at a workshop/retreat that fundamentally changed my life, or at least served as a pivot point in my journey. I had one incredibly emotional moment that weekend—a moment that has stayed with me all these years, through tremendous changes and ups and downs in my life.
One of my favorite parts of this retreat was that it was silent, a fact the participants did not know going in.  We could talk only during the workshop sessions, and not with each other, but to the group as a whole. The food was intentionally less than optimal for those few days as well. And every morning we had to run a mile. 
But, I digress.  One evening, as the retreat facilitator led us through some guided imagery, we were to be constructing our future home.  What would it look like? Where would it be? Who would be there?
And here’s the part where I burst into tears:  My future home was warm, with dark wood and candles, and inviting, comfortable furniture, and it was full of many, many children, children that looked like my children. The children flowed into my home in my vision.
At this point, the imagery had taken over and I was just a recipient.  I wept for probably a good fifteen minutes, maybe more (it’s been twenty years—details are fuzzy), but I know for sure that tears and snot rolled down my face uncontrollably.
I did not understand then why I was witnessing nor why I reacted so emotionally. The tears were neither sad nor joyous, just bursting with raw and uncontrollable feeling. Looking back now, I understand I was weeping because my vision was so radically, radically different from my reality.  I wept for the pains and joys I had yet to experience to truly get home.
Writing my memoir these past 18 months has prompted all manner of self-reflection (the cynics among us might say navel-gazing—there’s a whole other blog), and I’m finding much of that reflecting to be awkward, if not downright painful. So, I was sort of happy when recent events coincided to prompt me to remember this pleasant image.
My youngest daughter’s biological brother (both of my kids are adopted) recently moved to our home state and last weekend came to have dinner with us—he and his wife and their four children.  This was the first time I’d met her brother, though she had spent time with her biological family (including her birth parents) over the past few years.
As the day of their visit drew closer, I grew calmer—which is not really my MO. Usually I ramp up into a bit of a frenzy before such events. There were going to be ten of us, including four children, going out to dinner. I remained calm, grounded even. Even as the day grew closer and we had to redo the plans, I rolled with it, strangely confident that dinner would be what it needed to be.
And it was. I was home, surrounded by children that looked just like my daughters, surrounded by family new and old and new again.

Dash of Dysfunction. Pinch of Crazy

I’ve started working on my proposal for my memoir, and one of the features of said proposal is a list of competitive titles. You know, books that might be similar to mine, books that might share a theme with mine. Books that might share shelf space with mine—when and if . . . I came up with this short list off the top of my head:
The Commitment by Dan Savage (Gay marriage)
The Kid, by Dan Savage (Gay parenting)
Kramer vs. Kramer by Avery Corman (quintessential acrimonious custody battle)
Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott (unexpected parenting)
Why be Normal by Jeanette Winterson (adoption, religion, lesbianism)
Jesus Landby Julie Scheeres (religion, cross-cultural adoption)
In each of these books, I can find one thread of my story, but I couldn’t think of a single book in which two white lesbians adopt two racially diverse children, split up when one mother decides she can no longer send her daughters to daycare and so quits her job, a move that gets her kicked out of the house, and forces her to spend the next 16 years and tons of money on therapy trying to remain relevant in her daughters’ lives.
I think I may have found a niche in the market, Dear Reader. Throw in some subtext about fundamentalist Christianity, add a dash of dysfunction and a pinch of crazy. I think I just might have a winner.
The thing about writing a proposal . . . the proposal goes out to agents with the intent of wowing an agent who will then sell the book to a publisher. Selling the book to the publisher means the story will be, uhm, published. For the entire world to read. For family and friends to read.
What if family and friends find the book distasteful? Objectionable? Disastrous, even? Then what? What if our words change the way people see us? What if our words reveal our deepest truths and our families and friends and co-workers reject our truth? Unfriend us? Treat us differently? What then, Dear Reader?
Experience tells me that some will be upset when I speak my truth and that some will find me brave. Some will admire me and others will turn away. But I will be able to face myself, and that, I think, matters the most.