Tagged with " marriage"
Aug 20, 2014 - Social Studies    1 Comment

Why We Fight

Gen Con is always hard work and outstanding fun. When I first started going over 20 years ago, my days were filled with back-to-back games. But over time, long hours with friends from all over the country overtook games. These days, work for Atlas Games and speaking engagements mean no games at all, and lots of friends mean bigger parties and shorter visits. All the same, I’ve got to say: it’s still a week with some of my favorite people, all in one place, and the love is bigger than our host city.

The mental dissonance was strong, though, for many of us. While we reunited with old friends and played new games, many of us were distracted and upset by news from Ferguson, Missouri. Conversations frequently went something like: “Hey, it’s great to see you! How have you been? Man, it’s messed up, what’s happening in Ferguson.” We felt outraged and helpless, and often uncomfortable at having to keep doing what we were at Gen Con to do.

There are other things I’ll probably write about as I process this year’s experience, but two things really stand out as unusual and fantastic (and they’re actually the same kind of thing). Two friends got engaged to smart, beautiful, graceful women in public proposals at Gen Con this year. One was a cool scene in the convention center’s hallway performing area; the other, a large, orchestrated affair at the ENnie Awards ceremony. Both women accepted enthusiastically, and in both cases, the onlooking crowd went wild. Here, don’t take my word for it: watch and (if you’re like me) cry-clap.

But almost immediately on Twitter, people began accusing the couple who got engaged at the ENnies of insensitivity, because they were happy while horrific events were happening in Ferguson. How dare they choose that moment to celebrate? How could they be so selfish as to think of their future, when the future of Mike Brown had been cut so terribly, unfairly short?

Here’s the answer, though: You celebrate when you can precisely because life is uncertain and short.

People in war zones know this. Love and babies and anniversaries all happen in places of oppression and violence. People go home from protests and watch dumb movies. People have sex in between airstrikes. Life keeps going on.

The people fighting for justice and racial equity in Ferguson probably know this better than those of us who haven’t had to fight systemic racism every day of their lives. We got the phrase “jumping the broom” because, even during slavery when families were torn apart everyday, African-Americans still fell in love and got married, defying the laws that said those marriages were illegal. To this day, some black couples choose to honor this tradition and jump a broom to seal their wedding vows.

Terrible, terrible things are happening in Ferguson, and Gaza, and Ukraine, and Syria, and Iraq, and other places too. If it would be even remotely helpful for me to go there and support the protesters fighting for immediate and lasting justice in their community, I’d be on the next Greyhound bus. I’ll keep turning out for those goals in my own community—no justice, no peace.

But everyday things are happening in those places, too, because the thing they’re fighting for is the right to live an ordinary life, unencumbered by oppression and strife. A lot of people are fighting that battle in other ways, every single day.

What the people who criticized my friends may not have known is that we almost lost one of them to suicide this year. As soon as I finished hugging and crying on him after the proposal, my first question was, “What’s today’s number?” He answered, “192,” and I replied, “Well, that’s your magic number now, isn’t it.” 192 is how many days it had been since he’d almost died. How many days he’d survived and kept fighting depression, in the hope of living himself into all the things that make life worthwhile.

His marriage proposal wasn’t in ignorance of the tragedy and brutality happening in Ferguson. It was in direct defiance of the despair and violence that almost cost him his own life. There’s not a thing wrong with celebrating the kind of progress that looks in every way like resurrection and restoration. We fight for hope, in many ways, everyday—on the streets of occupied American cities, and in the dark corners of our own minds. No, they’re not the same, but the goal is: to find love and meaning in peace.

Oct 5, 2013 - Domestic Engineering    3 Comments

Pink & Ginger: The Secret of Our Success

Today is my 17th wedding anniversary with the Darling Husband, so I thought it would be fun to do another installation of Pink & Ginger, in which we talk about what’s made this partnership work for so long.

You can read more about our backstory elsewhere on the blog, but we’ll start at the beginning here:




Worlds' End screen

The Worlds’ End Bar on AmberMUSH, where the DH and I first met. For real.

ProfBanks: ‪So, Mr. Banks, when did you decide you wanted to marry me?


Darling Husband: Oh good, we’re starting with the easy ones.


It’s a toss-up between the time you killed my character on AmberMUSH with random dice rolls, and when you sent me that first mix-tape that was totally spot-on perfect.


But like every relationship’s beginning it’s the sum of all of its parts. Kind of unfair to single out.


PB: I can’t remember the exact day, but there was a point in the fall of ’95, when we were making plans for your visit, that I turned to Mari and said, “Hah, wouldn’t it be funny if I came back from Scotland married?” She looked at me like I’d lost my mind, but the little flip-flop in my stomach told me that, if you asked to elope, I’d do it in a heartbeat.



DH and me, celebrating my 21st birthday in France, in all our ’90s splendor.


PB: I’m sure it must’ve been like watching a bizarre, incomprehensible rom com unfold over the year. Add that to the generally weird experience of living abroad with a group of Americans (and Dutch), it had to have been the best entertainment around.


DH: Plus the unpredictable hours and time differences! From time to time, there was the additional worry of, “Holy crow, she’s a million miles away in France. If anything were to happen, how would I get there in time?” There were a couple of occasions like that.


PB: I remember some of those. Honestly, though, I wonder sometimes whether we’d have moved along so quickly without that 12-hour time difference. It really greased the skids for what was probably inevitable, but never easy.


Do you ever think about how our relationship would’ve been if we’d had something like Skype? Or even just Internet with pictures?


DH: I imagine the outcome would have been quite different if we’d had Twitter. I see this with a lot of romances and couples nowadays. And not being able to constantly know what each of us were doing was probably a good thing, too.


PB: Well, actually, Twitter strikes me as much closer to what we DID have.


DH: I suppose. Maybe I’m talking about always-available smart phones.


PB: Oh that. Yeah, even just today’s long distance rates might’ve kept the urgency levels for being together lower.


So, what’s the best thing about being married to me?


DH: The absolute best thing is knowing that we have our own culture and shared intellectual & emotional space that nobody else has. It’s a hybrid that started up in the days of MUSHing and exists now with a thousand little in-jokes, references, interests, and hobbies. Even though we don’t do the same things all the time, I never get the “why does she do that?” thought that comes with, say, not understanding why you like Prince so much.




When DH makes fun of my love for Prince, doves cry.


PB: The Prince thing is easy—it’s because Purple Rain is the best thing ever. But yes, we’ve built this whole world and language and symbology that I find hilarious on a daily basis. And while I value that immensely, I also want to say that I appreciate the fact that we work pretty seamlessly as a team, and we’re rock solid when we do. I often feel like circumstances are overwhelming, but I never doubt that we’ll make it through.

DH: Yes. I think that’s emblematic of this shared life, though. It’s the foundation for why we can relax enough to enjoy that. Sometimes things are incredibly stressful for one or both of us, but I know laughter isn’t too far away—and if not laughter, at least a firm set of the jaw and a desire to kick some ass.


PB: “A firm set of the jaw and a desire to kick some ass” should be on my business card.


What’s one weird thing I do that you kinda love?


DH: There are a ton of things. One of them is the weird voices and sounds you do that accompany watching or acting out things. “Wahoo! Wahey! Whoopee!” as you watch cat fail videos, for example. It’s like you narrate life in a fun way.



DH with a sock puppet of the Serpent of Chaos that I made for his birthday. Don't try to explain it.

DH with a sock puppet of the Serpent of Chaos that I made for his birthday. Don’t try to understand it.

PB: It’s hard for me to choose, but I’d say I’m pretty enchanted after all this time by the Closet of Random Weirdness you can dial into. Nobody else does that quite like you, except maybe Eddie Izzard.


So, is there a quality about yourself that you think has been essential for building such a strong marriage? I know it’s not what you thought you were signing up for when we exchanged rings.


DH: I’ve said this fairly often in the past, but it’s a combination of being fiercely loyal and having a lot of willpower. That’s not to mean that sticking with you has required a force of will, but I’ve chosen to invest in something I believe has value and worth and is greater than myself, and so I will move heaven and earth to ensure that it’s held up.


I hope this also comes out in my parenting and my job, too, but really I think my surprise at anyone asking how I can be married for this long comes from “Well, what else did you expect me to do?” I made vows, I made a promise, and I entered into it willingly and without an expectation that it would always be roses and leafy garlands.


PB: Yeah, but fibromyalgia and a house full of neurodiverse people and a cat that’s determined to rid you of the ginger caterpillar on your upper lip? I can’t even say how many people would’ve run the other way.


DH: I suppose it’s a good thing I’m not those people? I mean, I’d be a sad dude. Plus nobody ever knows what’s going to come along. I think my whole life with you has been one of discovery in spite of the setbacks to health, finances, or geography.


PB: Well, with all the other baggage I’ve unwittingly brought into this relationship, I think the one thing that I have that makes it work is flexibility. That sounds weird, considering how often I freak out when things don’t go the way I wanted them to, but where it’s important, I’m pretty good at just rolling with it.


DH: Nobody could ever accuse you of being static. As a teacher, I think you appreciate the importance of always learning. You read a hundred times faster and more often than I do. It’s alarming, and it’s a thing I wish I was able to do. I think that part of my brain likes to just shut off. Or else it’s what my Mum always warned me would happen if I read too many comic books.


PB: Nonsense. I’ve always taken refuge in books and learning, not to say at all that you haven’t. But as much focus as I can summon for that, you can actually focus on a single project in a way I find difficult. I can’t turn off the multitasking enough to lay down a good stretch of track like you do. Plus, it helps that you’re ridiculously creative, so you just unspool ideas like no one I’ve ever known.


DH: It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s possible to get caught up in a rat’s nest of ideas and connections that I get the creative equivalent of falling down the Wikipedia rabbit hole. I think this is at least part of why my time management sucks so bad. I’ve got to get on top of that. Maybe I should start making lists like some of our efficient friends do? Only, I think I’ll probably just ignore them.


PB: Luckily, though, your time management doesn’t really have a giant effect on our marriage, except for the stress that it causes you. Honestly, I can cope with it by flexing stuff around it. No biggie.


So what’s the most annoying thing I do?



I’m not saying I’m like this in the kitchen, but kinda yeah.

DH: Probably how you can create amazing dishes, baked goods, or other food and leave the kitchen a titanic mess. Which you say you will clean up, but I usually can’t stand it long enough before I end up doing it. So, on the spectrum of annoying things spouses do, that’s pretty low.


PB: That’s true, though I’d like to make a plea that my mess wouldn’t be as big if I had more counter space. Don’t ask me how I think that would work, but I’m sure it would help.


DH: We would likely find a way to cover every surface in something, eventually.


PB: Face it: If it weren’t for you, we’d soon be snowed under completely by dirty dishes, homework, books, and crap. I’m so grateful for your willingness to pick up my slack on physical chores.


There aren’t too many annoying things about you that I can’t attribute to my hyper-tuned autism senses. And you always turn over to stop snoring when I shove your shoulder in the night, so that’s not a big thing.


Ironically, I think the most annoying thing is also the thing I most envy, which is your ability to filter out everything going on around you and get lost in what you’re doing. I’m completely unable to ignore the noise and motion of the kids, so I get frustrated sometimes that you don’t notice when I’m struggling to get them to do something. We’re so lucky that you can stay calm through that, though—I sure can’t.


DH: When it gets particularly annoying, it probably looks like I’m not paying attention. Which of course is totally an illusion, because I know what’s happening around me at all times.


PB: Bah, I say. Bah. All the bah.


DH: So do we have the secret to a successful marriage here?


PB: I don’t know what a secret it is. We laugh, we work together, we’re honest, we cover each other’s weak spots, we tolerate, and we make room for new ideas, priorities, and experiences.


DH: Plus we have these kids.


PB: Right. How weird is that.


If we could celebrate our anniversary in any way, with money as no object, what would you want to do?‬


DH: Fly back to Scotland. Spend time in Aberdeen again, then this time go the rest of the way up, and take a boat across to Ireland. Revisit places we were at before. Follow up with another New Zealand trip, or one to France, or Rome.


PB: With or without the kids?


DH: You know, if we could fly them in after a romantic weekend, that would be OK. But if money were no object, I’d drop them in the lair of a grandparent or two and ditch.


PB: That sounds nice. I’d even be content with something closer to home, like being able to buy ourselves really swanky clothes, then go out for a fancy dinner and a show of some kind, then spend the night in a comfy hotel.


DH: Yeah, those are the anniversaries I like. Just recognizing them with alcohol and time together.


I make us sound like drunks.


PB: Which is funny because I’ve never been drunk.


But since money is the only object we lack at the moment, what would you like to do tomorrow?


DH: We’re going to go out and get an early bite to eat before catching a 7:10pm screening of Don Jon, of course.


PB: Yeah, I could be down with that. You do know how ridiculously lucky I am to have had you for the last 17 years, though, right, Mr. Banks?


DH: Right back at you, sweetheart.







May 31, 2013 - Political Science    No Comments

The Big Debrief

No more phonebanks, no more trainings. I’m home most nights of the week now. My feet have stopped aching from the Capitol’s marble floors. I’ve mostly caught up on sleep.

This is what victory looks like.

I attended my first training session to fight the hurtful anti-marriage amendment proposed for the Minnesota state constitution a full year before it appeared on the ballot in November 2012. Early the following spring, I attended my first phonebank and began my role in the massive conversation that reworked this state’s understanding of love, marriage, and commitment. I stepped into successively greater volunteer leadership roles as the next nine months played out.

And then we won. Minnesota became the first state to defeat an amendment banning same-sex marriage after 30 previous states had passed them. Jubilation isn’t too strong a word. Strangers in stores asked if they could hug me when they saw the campaign stickers on my coat. “I’m just so proud of my state,” they said, and I agreed.

A lot of people left everything on the field in the effort to send that amendment down to defeat. So when the campaign announced early in the new year that it would ride the momentum to take a shot at winning marriage equality this year, the crowd of people I worked with changed. Many beloved friends stayed to change a No to a Yes, but there was a shift, and I fumbled a bit to find my place in the new order.

Burnout wasn’t an unexpected guest after 15 months on the case, but I was still disappointed in myself to have lost the rhythm of self-renewal. I questioned the assumptions I’d built up in the previous campaign, that I was made for this work and the work itself gave me back more than I put in. But I’d grown enough as a person to know that this was a natural cycle, and that it called for reaching out for support, not withdrawing into myself.

CapitolMessaging2And then, like the birth of every good and wonderful thing, came the Big Push. It required no exaggeration to convey the urgency of every single phone call, every email, every lobby visit. Thousands of us in orange and blue crowded the capitol on the day of the House vote. I worried that I would feel useless as a tiny cog with no sense of the great machine, so instead of simply accepting that, I asked for something specific I could manage. That’s how I became the clearinghouse for the hundreds of paper messages we sent directly to the legislators’ hands as they sat in session. Every time another stack was ready for the pages, I would say “Fly, little bundles of love!” like some manic Witch of the West.

I was surprised by the flood of tears that joy brought as the freedom to marry passed first the House, then the Senate. Sure, I cry with joy or beauty sometimes, but the sobs I tried to contain shook me with an unexpected force. One part was surely a release of tension coiled tightly over more than a year. Another part, though, was the crashing wave of love and possibility that swamped everyone who’d fought or longed for this most basic freedom.

No good campaign skips the big debrief at the end–the veterans are repositories of wisdom on what worked, what didn’t, and how to do it better the next time. So I need to take an inventory of what this movement has done to me.

I can both teach and be taught better than before. I listen more actively and empathetically. I’ve refined and reaffirmed some of my deepest moral and spiritual beliefs. I believe action can work. I can build unlikely coalitions. I found my true calling in issue politics. I can set effective boundaries to preserve my own resources, and I can defend them when challenged by a new, sudden need. I know more about community organizing and legislative politics. I have a base of beloved, lifelong friends. I feel perfectly comfortable in the halls of power. I have made Minnesota my forever home. I learned that our own personal stories can change the world.

And I’m ready to start making some wedding gifts.


Fear of an Blank Parent

Because it is my highest aspiration to be a troublemaker, I’m setting out today to problematize something we all take for granted. I want to argue that the gendering of parenthood does very little good, and no small amount of harm.

This post springboards off posts by Amanda Valentine and me about the media portrayals of men and fathers as bumbling, hapless idiots who are as likely to diaper the Thanksgiving turkey and put the baby in the oven as watch the football game afterward. It also relates directly to the historic cases about same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court this week.

My point is very simple: there is very little difference between the duties my husband and I assume with regard to our children. And since the earliest days–specifically, since I stopped breastfeeding them–the differences in parenting caused by our genders have been vanishingly small.

As parents, we make sure they wash, dress, eat reasonably well (at least over the course of a week, if not each and every day). We send them to school, help with homework, take the inevitable phone calls that come from sending two active, intelligent boys to school every day. We monitor their media, we break up arguments, we cause arguments, and at the end of the day, we tuck them in at night with kisses and dire warnings against getting out of bed again for anything short of a fire.

Absolutely none of these things, or the billion other duties and blessings that comprise parenthood, depend on our biology.

The division of labor that takes place between modern co-parents comes from the frank assessment of one another’s particular strengths and struggles. I crack the whip over homework and science fair projects because I am an educator, not because I am a woman. My Darling Husband does more of the day-to-day housework because I am disabled, not because he is a man. Nor does this indicate I am a failure as a wife and mother, or that he is a weakened, hen-pecked husband and father. Someday, our boys will require The Talk (or to be more correct, The Talks); I honestly have no idea who’s going to give it. I hear the DH has a leg up on me in the visual aids department.

In one of the early hearings on the same-sex marriage bill currently under consideration here in Minnesota, the measure’s opponents brought out an 11-year-old girl to testify against the idea of marriage equality. (You may have also seen her on the steps of the Supreme Court this week; she’s one of their star witnesses right now.) She told the legislators that she loved her mommy and daddy, but that under this bill, some children wouldn’t have a mommy or a daddy, but two of one. “Which parent do I not need, my mom or my dad?” she asked the committee.

And I finally understood why fighting same-sex marriage matters so much to many of its fiercest opponents.

In their world, mothers and fathers do different things for the children. Fathers can’t do mothering, and mothers can’t do fathering. If a single mom or a pair of dads raises a child, there is work being left undone, and the child can’t help but suffer for it. How could anyone possibly be in favor of only half an upbringing?

The gendering of parenthood not only diminishes the power of what parents of both sexes do for their children everyday, but it also confuses the living heck out of some people. When you see signs decrying the erosion of “traditional marriage,” they’re not just talking about divorce and same-sex couples–they mean me and my oh-so-traditional marriage, too.

Even though I’m married to a spouse of the opposite gender, we’re destroying traditional marriage too, by sharing the work–the hardships, the effort, the joys, the rewards–of creating a new family. We’re also undermining the institution by teaching our children (made in the traditional “When a mommy and a daddy love each other very much…” biological way) that moms and dads cook dinner, attend school conferences, travel for work, and tell them to turn off the iPod at bedtime. For the most part, we’re interchangeable.

And our evil scheme is clearly working. They accept their friends with two moms, or one mom, or a dad and a grandma without so much as a bat of the eye. If I had a dime for every time they called the wrong one of us “Mom” or “Dad,” we could afford a bigger apartment. To them, “Mom” and “Dad” are just names to help differentiate between whose attention they’re demanding. It’d probably be easier on us all if there were a random name for “Whichever of you can help me first with what I want.”

My sons are growing up healthy and happy with two loving parents. They’d be no less loved if only one of us were around, or if we were both the same gender, or no gender at all. That’s not how love works–it’s not a zero-sum game.

And when you think of it like that, it’s pretty hard to see two loving, married parents eroding anything about our future.

Closing Arguments

I’ve been working on the campaign for marriage equality here in Minnesota since March, and as I’ve written before, it’s the most fulfilling political, social, and activist project I’ve ever worked on. I’m a total addict to the amazing people and experiences I encounter every single time I put in some time, and I’m going to crash hard on November 7, even if we manage to win. I’m already getting the shakes. Last night, I asked my friend and co-trainer Scott, who works in politics for his day job, for a new campaign–I’m lining up a new dealer once Minnesotans United for All Families skips town.

MN United has built a campaign unlike any other, rejecting the messages and tactics that have failed in 30 states where anti-marriage amendments have gone up for a popular vote. While talk about the rights and benefits that attach to marriage, and how the denial of those rights amounts to separate-but-equal discrimination on par with civil rights fights of the past, are important to many supporters of marriage equality, they aren’t generally persuasive for people who are on the fence about gay marriage. So we’re having personal conversations with voters, using our own life stories, to make it clear that marriage is about love and commitment, no matter the gender of the partners. These stories are powerful, and they change hearts and minds and votes.

Only four days remain until the election, so I’m going to share the core of the conversations I’ve been having with you today. If you’re in one of the four states voting on marriage equality, I hope that this strengthens your resolve if you’re a supporter, and opens your heart to the conversation if you’re still undecided.

Our first walk as Mr. and Mrs. Banks, 5 October 1996

I find this amendment personally hurtful on so many levels. I have the great good fortune to be married to the love of my life, despite the astronomical odds that we would ever find one another on opposite sides of the world. And for the last sixteen years, we’ve had each other in good times and bad. I’ve rejoiced in the affection and the support and the million inside jokes and shorthand references that weave us closer, and I’ve buckled with relief into that tightly knit fabric of partnership in the times of crisis and grief. I think marriage is the best game in town, and I devoutly wish the same celebration and endorsement for every loving, committed couple who lean into the unknown future together.

All of this hinges, though, on one critical fact: my beloved was the opposite gender. When we fell madly in love, we had many obstacles to overcome so we could be together, but the legal right for me to marry him and secure his immigration status so we could start our new life together was not one of them. We obtained a K-1 “fiance” visa that allowed him to enter the country and get on the fast track for a green card by submitting evidence of our marriage. We went through the separate interviews to assure our marriage wasn’t a scam.

But I’m bisexual. There was no guarantee that my soulmate would be a man. And if he weren’t, the last sixteen years–all the love, all the progress, all the family we’ve built–disappear. That one thought blows through my gut like an icy wind and fills me with unbearable sorrow. I cannot imagine the pain and devastation of being told I couldn’t marry and be with my beloved.

And I look at my amazing, difficult, brilliant, gorgeous, perfect sons, and I marvel even more. We didn’t have to submit any applications or pass any interviews before we decided to conceive them, and not once have we ever had to fear that they would be taken away from us. We’re far from perfect parents, but no one has ever questioned whether we’re the best people to raise them. It’s assumed that they’re safe and happy and healthy and loved, and there’s no awkwardness when I introduce their other parent at school events or church functions.

Believe me, all this “traditional”-ness is positively mortifying to a weird, eclectic nonconformist like me. Frankly, it’s embarrassing. We didn’t set out to create a “traditional” family, and we’ve done everything in our power to the least traditional traditional family around. But we are very aware of our privilege, and there’s no reason in the world it should be reserved to our narrow demographic.

Marriage is an important but limited part of how I envision family. I’m a child of divorce, and even as an eight-year-old, I knew that my mother and father weren’t working out. I knew that marriage stood in the way of being our best selves, and I told my mom often as a kid, then a teenager, then an adult, that she made the right call. That divorce didn’t dissolve the ties of family, though–I’m still close with my father’s family, and I kept my birth last name as a second middle name when my stepdad adopted us years later. But I also watched my grandparents’ marriage, which started with my grandma saying, “I’ll marry you so I can get out of the house before I kill my sister. But if it doesn’t work out, you go your way, I’ll go mine, and no hard feelings.” It lasted 62 years.

We teach our sons that families come in all shapes and sizes. Of course, we didn’t have to work too hard to teach them this: they already knew it. They have friends who have a mom and a dad like they do, and friends who only live with their mom or their dad, or travel between their parents’ houses. They know friends who live with extended family, or foster parents, or adoptive families. And they know friends with two dads or two moms. All they care about is that their friends are as loved and secure as they are.

So I’m voting no.

I’m voting no because I treasure my marriage. No other word in our language and society so completely sums up the lifelong commitment and enduring love that I share with my partner, and it hurts to imagine being told that we didn’t qualify for that word by something we couldn’t change or improve. My marriage is strong, and no married gay couple down the street, arguing about bills and chores like we do, makes that less secure.

I’m voting no because I hold my sons in hope and love. I feel that they’re better people because we’ve taught them that every person is worthy of the same dignity, no exceptions. My dream for my boys is to dance at their weddings, and the only thing I care about is that the person they marry loves them as much as I love their father. I’m going to dance, it’s going to be Bad Mom Dancing, and it’s going to live on in infamy on YouTube, to forever embarrass them, like every good mom should.

I’m voting no because my understanding of the world’s faiths teaches me that the most universal truth among humans is to treat one another the way we would want to be treated. Whether it’s the Judeo-Christian Golden Rule, or the Confucian Silver Rule, this is held as a central tenet. We rarely follow the ancient scriptures that prohibit same-sex partners on other subjects; we acknowledge that they’re historical documents, and that society’s values have evolved since they were written. I want my church to have the religious freedom to marry gay and lesbian couples as our faith embraces as equally entitled.

I’m voting no because I’m a historian. I can see that the institution of marriage predates the Bible and that it began as an economic transaction to link families and secure heredity. It was not always a sacrament, and it was not always available to every heterosexual couple. It hasn’t “always been” any particular way. Marriage for love is a damned newfangled idea, relatively speaking. If you married someone not from your hometown, you’re already breaking “traditional” convention, let alone someone of a different church, faith, ethnic group, or race.

I’m voting no because I’m a teacher and a parent, and the health, safety, and wellbeing of every child matters to me. I can’t imagine the horror of waiting to know how the state where they were born is going to vote on whether they and their families are welcome. LGBT youth are so fragile already, under siege in schools and churches and media, and it’s a sacred trust we are given to show them that they can aspire to fully participate in society and experience the range of human love. I have great confidence that other teachers will continue to teach age-appropriate lessons, and that as parents we still have the greatest power to teach our children about morality.

I’m voting no because I’m a patriot. I believe in the founding principles of our country, especially the purpose of our constitution as a document that secures personal freedoms and limits government intrusions. The constitution should never be used to carve out a segment of the population and deprive them of the same liberties as others enjoy. And we certainly shouldn’t be putting rights up for a popular vote. Ideological conservatives have made some of the most persuasive arguments along these lines.

I’m voting no because I’m an optimist, and I believe our society is moving toward a broader, more inclusive understanding of one another. The less we allow race, gender, faith, class, and sexual orientation to cloud our vision of a common humanity, the more we will recognize that we all want the same thing. We’ve got a long way to go on all of those issues, but we can (and should!) work on them simultaneously. I reject the arguments of fear, division, and misunderstanding, and I put my hope in the journey we’re on toward life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


Bite Your Tongue

I’ve been on hiatus here at the blog for a while, as summer (and more specifically, con season) made all our best laid plans gang well and truly a-gley. Having been deprived of Gen Con, I set out to give the boys a few firsts, including first time on a horse and first time in a human-propelled watercraft. They both went surprisingly well.

I’ve also been doing lots of work with Minnesotans United for All Families–not particularly more than before, but the campaign has reached critical mass, and every day it seems there’s movement or news.  I had to tell the boys to stop yelling excitedly every time they see an orange “Vote NO” lawn sign, as they started springing up like mushrooms all over Saint Paul, and I began to rapidly lose my hearing. There’s great cause for hope, but it’s going to be close, and we’ll be working flat-out right up to the night of November 6.

(Wo)manning the MN United table at our apartment complex’s National Night Out event. Picture by Griffin.

The heart of my work is having conversations with Minnesota voters, and teaching others to do likewise. It’s so different from other political advocacy I’ve done in the past, as I’ve described previously, and instead of coming home exhausted and drained, it usually takes me an hour or three to come down from the adrenaline high after a phone bank or training. I’ve met fantastic people of every age, faith, place, and life experience, and whatever the outcome of the election, I believe we’re fundamentally changing the way Minnesotans think about each other, about marriage, and about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, for the better.

Time and again, though, in my own conversations and the ones I’m training people to have with their friends, family, and neighbors, this question comes up: “What do you say when someone says marriage has always been that way and starts quoting Scripture?” To which I always reply: “You’ve got to bite your tongue, just like I do.”

I know, you’re saying, “You, Jess? You just bite your tongue when it comes to a question of religion and history?” And yes, I really do, hard as that may be for you to picture. In fact, that’s the major skill set I’ve been working on personally in this campaign, and I’ve made real strides in this department.

But why, you ask? Why don’t I lay The Almighty Bible-quoting, chapter-and-verse, dates-and-names-and-edicts-and-Supreme-Court-cases Smackdown To End All Smackdowns on them? I admit, the urge is strong. Sometimes, it feels like a whole segment of the population is just BEGGING me to teach them the history their schools and churches have failed to teach them. It seems like a personal sign from the universe that my particular combination of research is meaningful and needed, right here, right now.

But I’ve discovered something else that’s meaningful and needed, right here, right now: I’m not going to win a single vote for marriage equality by “changing minds,” which is what I’d be trying to do if I gave in to the impulse to lecture. The only way we’re going to defeat this hurtful amendment is to change hearts, and all the knowledge in the world doesn’t even scratch the surface of that mission.

I just finished reading a fascinating book by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. I haven’t felt like assigning required reading to everyone I meet in a while, but if I could buy this book for everyone I know–especially those on the campaign with me–I would. Haidt makes the case for a hybrid definition of how the human mind works, somewhere between Plato’s assertion that emotions are the servants of Reason and Hume’s argument that Reason is a slave to our passions. Haidt says a more apt analogy would be an elephant (our emotions) with a rider (our intellect). The rider can make suggestions to the elephant and looks like he’s in charge, but ultimately, if the elephant decides to head a particular direction, all the rider can do is say “I meant to do him to do that.”

Haidt also shares the results of his research into the moral foundations on which the edifices of conservative and liberal thought are built, and his conclusion is that part of the success of the modern conservative movement is based on the fact that conservative ideology appeals to a broader array of moral options than liberalism does. Since liberals often think of conservatives as “narrow-minded,” this sounds counter-intuitive, but really, it’s not. Liberals, Haidt demonstrates, derive their moral judgments almost entirely from whether something cares for or harms other beings, or whether it seems equalizing or discriminatory. Conservatives, on the other hand, respond less strongly to equality and care/harm, but additionally respond to messages of proportionality (more/less work=more/less reward), loyalty (to kin and other identity groups), sanctity (upholding standards of purity or pollution), and authority (respect for institutions), while many liberals actually perceive a threat from high degrees of those sources of morality. I think he’s really on to something, and I agree with what I heard Howard Dean talk about in a speech at Penn State, all the way back in 2004–that progressives won’t be able to accomplish their goals until they learn to articulate the morality of their position from all of these angles, and tap into the emotional heart of their message.

So when I talk to people about the anti-marriage amendment, I’m consciously talking to the elephant, not the rider, because it’s the elephant that will check a box on the ballot November 6. What does that mean, practically? It means I ask voters how they feel about love, marriage, and commitment, not how they think. I ask them if they’re married, if they’ve ever been in love, if they’ve ever been to a wedding, and how those things felt. I ask them whether they know any gay people, and how they feel about them if they do. If they say they don’t, I ask if they’ve ever felt excluded from something they wanted with all their hearts. And I don’t take no for an answer, because that experience is just as universal as love.

What I’m specifically not asking about is what they’ve been taught, what they’ve learned, what they know about the law and history of marriage. I’m not informing them on marriage’s roots in civil, economic, contractual law. I’m not engaging in Dueling Scripture Quotations. I’m not expounding on the long, twisted history of suppression of rights for groups that aren’t rich, white, male, or Christian. I’m not doing any of that, because it’s an absolute waste of my time, and I don’t have a minute to waste between now and the vote. There’s no point in convincing the rider, because there’s no way he can convince that elephant to squeeze into the booth if the elephant’s not into it.

The way we’re going to win is make the elephant want to get into the booth, and the only way to do that is to tie marriage equality to something the elephant already feels strongly about. Everybody wants love; nobody wants to be told they’re not good enough; we feel strongly about commitments to the people in our lives. Occasionally, I’ll come across a person whose church is democracy, whose scripture is the constitution, and for them, talking about rights and fairness is as persuasive as showing them how this amendment harms the people they love. But that feeling isn’t nearly as universal as the desire for love and the dream of celebrating that love in the sight of family, friends, community, and (for many) their god(s).

So I bite my tongue, and the teacher in my head jumps up and down furiously at being stifled. But the blood I taste is worth the stories I hear, the hopes and fears people share, and the wonder of creating a connection where there wasn’t one before. Those are the things that will get the elephant in the booth, and help generations of Minnesotans know that they are welcome, valued, and loved in this beautiful state of ours.

Aug 1, 2012 - Political Science    2 Comments

Politics Most Fowl

I’m going to come right out and say this:

I don’t like Chick-Fil-A.

I mean, I really don’t like their sandwiches. I’m pretty sure no one but me cares, and that’s fine.

No, I’m not just piling on the little guy (if a corporation can be a “little guy;” Citizens United be damned), and I would die for the company’s president to say whatever damnfool, hateful nonsense he wants. This is America, and both religion and speech are still free, even inhumane and cruel religion and stupid, self-serving speech. I just think their chicken tastes like crap.

But in the noise and the furor over the statements and counter-statements, the protests and counter-protests, I only have a few things to add, all of which are unsophisticated and not worth arguing over.

1)  Boycotts work. If you don’t agree with a company’s politics or actions, don’t give them another dime. Yes, the first place they feel it is in local franchisees, and that’s maybe not whom you want to hurt when you drive on past. But corporate offices sure as hell notice boycotts, and they are incredibly powerful tools of protest.

2) Be kind to the people who work for the corporation you’re targeting with your protest. I’d be willing to guess that there are a lot of people who work for Chick-Fil-A who work there because it’s a job. They’re mainly college kids trying to scrape up tuition money for next semester, senior citizens whose Social Security wouldn’t keep them in food AND meds, and a whole bunch of underemployed people who just need a steady income as they come out the other end of the financial disaster we’ve just weathered.

They’re not anti-gay; they don’t value anyone less than another. (Though there is this, which is a little weird.) They’re scared as hell that someone’s going to belly up to their counter today and release a spew of bile and invective at them, and hold them accountable for something beyond their ken. And that spew goes both ways. Imagine the pain of having to suffer through some bigot’s tirade about gays going to hell, followed immediately by an irate liberal’s rant about how they’re a horrible human being for taking a paycheck from a company that crushes the dreams of little gay boys and girls.

I get queasy just thinking about that level of confrontation, all day every day.

So, if you want to make a big scene, for god’s sake, don’t drop a glitterbomb on the counter at a Chick-Fil-A. Some kid with developmental disabilities, on loan from the local group home, is going to have to sweep up every single flake before he can claim his discounted, hours-old, half-cold, slowly-lethal chicken lunch in the janitorial closet. That’s the way fast food works, and you’re not punishing the right person.

Just got to make a point? Grab your best friend, ask to see the manager, kiss that friend right on the mouth, and tell them that you love everyone. And then go home and cook dinner for your family.

Correction: Don’t just kiss your friend–hug the manager. Tell him/her how sorry you are that the company owner put their business in this position. Then donate the cost of your meal to one of the marriage equality fights in the country right now (in Washington, Maryland, and Minnesota). And THEN cook dinner for your loved ones.

Excuse me, I’m having a moment here

You know those people who always say, “There’s a reason for everything that happens?”

Yeah, I usually want to kick them in the crotch, too.

But even as I say that, I have to admit that I’ve seen meaningful patterns in my life, time and time again, for which there’s no rational explanation. Doors closing, windows opening–call it what you will. I’ve just found myself in too many places I shouldn’t have been that turned out to lead me to exactly where I was meant to be.

That’s why, when people ask me if I could “take back” my sexual assault or my fibromyalgia or the hell we’ve been through with Connor, I answer, fast as a snap, “No!” Those things made and keep making me the person I am, and I love where and with whom I am far too much to risk changing even one crappy thing in the past.

For the most part, I perceive these patterns from afar, like an aerial photograph of where I’ve been. But I’m in the midst of an amazing moment right now, when I see them crystallizing right before me. I am precisely where I am supposed to be, where I’ve been headed for decades.

I’m volunteering for Minnesotans United for All Families, the coalition fighting the constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the freedom to marry in Minnesota for generations to come. It’s on the ballot in November, the 31st of these elections when a basic human right for a whole group of people is put up for popular vote.

We aim to be the first to defeat this kind of attack.

I’d already committed to be part of this effort, but when one of the organizers here in Saint Paul came to me to ask if I would step up as a team leader and put in about 6-8 hours a week on the campaign (until it becomes much, much more, when the leaves start falling from the trees). Frankly, I might’ve been smarter to say no, but I’d wanted a way to engage more with the campaign so, like the Overcommitment Princess I am, I said, “Bring it.”

I’ve attended trainings and phone banks, planning meetings and launch parties. I’ve met more new people on the campaign than I may have met in the whole time I’ve lived in Minnesota. They’re running a crazy-smart campaign here, unlike anything that’s been attempted anywhere else, focusing on personal conversations about love and commitment, rather than discrimination and legal protections, with over 1 million voters. And the longer I’m in this thing, the more I know that the skills I’ve acquired all come together for this work.

A lot of the work is very similar to teaching. Informing voters, training volunteers, and coordinating teams has shades of lecturing, discussing central concepts, guiding and supporting folks so they can reach their own conclusions on the subject. I appreciate my experience with non-traditional students and different ethnic constituencies–this coalition is so broad and deep, uniting across so many communities.

I’m finding my crisis counselor training to be very useful too. Having intense conversations about values with strangers, neighbors, and friends, as well as training others to have those conversations, requires active listening, something that doesn’t (but should) get taught in everyday life. It’s hard not to use my Rogerian reflective statements, but I’m allowed to get invested in the stories I’m telling and hearing in a way I couldn’t as a counselor. I’m walking with people through memories, and feelings, and judgments that sometimes unravel or take shape at the same time as the words cross their lips. It’s incredibly powerful.

And I’ve already expounded on my commitment to philanthropy and social justice activism here on the blog. Though I still feel guilty when I try to own my bisexuality because I’ve never suffered for that part of my identity, this isn’t only an LGBTQ issue. All you have to believe in to fight this amendment is love. I’m living my happily ever after, despite very long odds–I want everyone to have the same freedom and joy.

Even my training as a historian gives me perspective that adds to my sense of privilege at being a part of this. In my religious studies work, I’ve looked at the civil terms and religious blessings on personal commitments in a wide variety of cultures and eras, which is powerfully erosive of many arguments in favor of such an amendment. And knowing the history of milestones like the Loving v. Virginia case, which made interracial marriage legal for once and for all in America in 1967, has opened my eyes to the historical importance of halting the tide of these amendments at last.

So I’m having a moment here. Minnesota’s having a moment too, deciding what kind of state it wants to be. But my moment (as egocentric as it sounds to say it) is more empowering than I think anyone at Minnesotans United knows or cares. I doubt my qualifications, my value, my ability to be useful to anyone, all the time. Every time I recommend myself for something, my heart’s in my throat like I’m jumping off a cliff. I even feel weird thinking about getting business cards made up, because honestly, who would ever want or need to remember me enough to keep my stupid square of cardstock?

But on this campaign, I feel useful. I’m doing good work. I can contribute my skills and my passion, and have it matched and encouraged and appreciated. I feel needed–me, with my quirky, particular bag of tricks. I’m so grateful for the experience that I even offered to dye my hair back to a plausibly human color, if they thought that the coding that happens on first contact would be detrimental to my ability to help effectively. Their response? “No way. Rock the pink hair. We need the pink-haired to feel included too.”

That’s love, folks. That’s what we’re fighting for. And what I’m doing will help us win.

Mar 8, 2012 - Domestic Engineering    2 Comments

The Unchosen One: A Warning

If you’ve been reading this blog for even a little while, you know that family is pretty much the center of my world. You know that, most days, I may want to strangle my children, but I’d also die for them without a single thought. Most moms feel that way. It’s that whole maternal instinct thing–even animals turn ferocious when they feel their offspring are threatened. Hell, even Sarah Palin, who (at least publicly) appears to have the mothering skills of a drugged condor born in captivity, calls herself a “Mama Grizzly.”

What women don’t talk about nearly as often is the similarly violent impulse to protect a good mate, if you’re lucky enough to have one. This isn’t instinct, I don’t think; it doesn’t feel quite the same. It’s not an irresistible reflex, like hiccuping or dropping your brand new iPhone as you lunge to keep your kid from falling off his bike (admire my fancy screen crack!). This is more thoughtful, and as a result, more terrifying to witness.

Recent events have occurred in which someone made the unbelievably poor calculation to attack my Darling Husband publicly in a blog post–no, I’m not going to link it here and give it one more breath of air time–which sought to discredit the incredibly hard work he does to keep the company he works for moving forward in creative and positive ways. The first piece of miscalculation came from underestimating the vast reserves of good will the D.H. has built up in our community of friends, fans, and interested parties. The D.H. is a Good Man ™. He’s loyal to his friends, generous to fans of his work, and unfailingly polite to his critics. The most conservative of reactors to the effort to smear his work demanded names and proof; others returned the favor, retracting support and badmouthing the accuser. Needless to say, this was heartening to see.

The second miscalculation was this: He doesn’t know me. You see, if you threaten my beloved, I will end you.

It won’t be quick. It won’t happen immediately. No, I’m going to let you look over your shoulder for a while, wondering when the blade will drop. You’ll sleep with the lights on. You’ll ask others to pop corners for you, like soldiers in urban combat. You’ll question the wisdom of your actions. You may even try to walk it back, make amends. Probably cry a little, maybe publicly.

It won’t matter.

And when it does come–when I start on you–it won’t be impulsive or frantic or wild, like it would be if my children were threatened. It will be planned. It will be cold. And it will be slow. I won’t be the Mama Grizzly with you. I will be the invisible, steel-tipped ninja assassin you didn’t even know to have nightmares about.

At first, it will be utterly bloodless, just a creeping chill that prickles your hair and makes you think of ghosts. Lights will slowly extinguish around the perimeter. Birds and insects will fall to silence. Shadows will bulge and become more solid, like the meniscus atop an overfull glass. Pieces will start sliding off before you even know you’ve been cut.

When I finally let you see me, I will be smiling.

I won’t “go medieval” on you. You see, I’m actually a medievalist. I know what medieval people did to each other. Usually, it was short, brutal, and efficient. Normally, that would appeal to me–I like to be efficient. But you have filled me with wrath, and wrath isn’t interested in efficiency. Wrath is all about artistry.

You know who really did wrath? The Old Testament. No, I won’t “go medieval” on your ass–I’ll go Old Testament. The Hebrew God tells his own chosen people what he will do to them if they don’t follow the strict laws he has laid out for them in Leviticus 26:29-33:

“But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it.

I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted.

And I will bring the sword upon you to avenge the breaking of the covenant. When you withdraw into your cities, I will send a plague among you, and you will be given into enemy hands.

You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you. I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings. I will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled. I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins.”

Remember: God’s chosen people get this kind of treatment. You? I didn’t choose you. You don’t deserve that consideration. You chose my Darling Husband.

Now start running.


Romantic as F**k: Reverb Broads 2011 #28

Our first walk as Mr. and Mrs. Banks, 5 October 1996

Reverb Broads 2011, December 28 (my birthday!): Do you consider yourself a romantic person? Do you prefer fancy dinners, roses, and chocolate, or are you more non-traditional? What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done for a loved one or had done for you? (courtesy of Kassie at http://bravelyobey.blogspot.com/)

Answering this question feels almost redundant; my whole life is an answer to this question. But I forget sometimes that not everyone knows my weird story, so here’s a quick recap: I made friends with a guy in New Zealand on the MUSH (real-time, text-based online roleplaying game) we both played on in the mid-’90s. We talked on the phone, sent silly packages, and slowly fell in love. We became “exclusive” at the beginning of my year in France, and on my birthday in 1995, he left his island for the first time in his life to fly to London and meet me in person. He had the engagement ring in his suitcase. He asked me in Aberdeen, Scotland on New Year’s Eve; I said yes, then made him talk through all the practical details before I would even open the ring box. We travelled together for three weeks, then he went home until I was back in the States that summer. He flew in to Florida, where I was staying with my parents before returning to Kansas for my last semester of undergrad, and we’ve been together ever since.

So, there are the answers to questions 1 and 3.

But even generally speaking, I’m a pretty unapologetic romantic. I love grand gestures, though I lean toward the non-traditional in what I appreciate. While I enjoy fancy dinners and flowers as much as the next girl, the efforts that speak to really knowing me well are the ones that really ring my bell. My husband bought me a Doctor Who charm bracelet on Etsy for Christmas this year, which was just perfect. And I wear Tresor perfume partly because I love it, and partly because he always says how much he loves the way it smells on me in particular.

I also adore surprises and pulling off ninja-level arrangements. When I went away to Welsh camp during the week of my husband’s birthday, I hid presents for him for each day, all around the house, and left him clues to open each day. I hid a barbeque grill behind the television stand; I put a video of our favorite MST3K episode in one of my kitchen cupboards. I had the poor man convinced I was sneaking home from Toronto every night to hide things that he was sure hadn’t been there the day before. Part of this is helped by his general obliviousness to detail (sorry, love, but you know it’s true: a side effect of being a storytelling genius is that you’re more aware of made-up things than the ones right in front of you), but part was sheer ninjatude on my part. One of my only regrets is that I don’t really have a surprise ninja for myself.

It’s so tricky finding romance in everyday life. A lot of the time, quite honestly, we use laughter and shared interests like methadone for the elusive heroin of romantic gestures. And I’ll be the first to say that, some days, I have exactly enough romance in my body to read about five pages of a smutty novel before I fall asleep–two-way romance takes way more energy than reading about somebody else’s romance. But when the astronomical odds of ever having found my perfect partner in the world give me vertigo to contemplate, it doesn’t take much to feel like there’s romance all around me. There’ll be time (and maybe money) for grand gestures when the kids grow up.

And they lived happily ever after...