The hitchin’ post

Fourteen years ago in July, I was on my first date with the woman who would eventually become my life partner and the mother of my children. How we first met is a lesbian cliché par excellence. No, it wasn’t on the softball field. Remember, the beloved is a femmy theater type. The other lesbian cliché. Right! A Women’s Studies class! (The colorful details surrounding that auspicious meeting are best saved for another time, or perhaps The Book, which, if I don’t just start referring to it somewhere it may never exist.) Now back to the business at hand, which is peeking in on our first date.

She was nervous; I was notorious. Oops! I can’t exaggerate. Some old chums who were witness to our initial courtship actually read this blog, and they’d set things right soon enough. Okay, it was true that she was nervous. It was her first foray back onto the gal side of the river, so to speak, after a lengthy sojourn at the guy shore, and she was a tad concerned I would question her sincerity. (Me? Lesbian Missionary Extraordinaire? Daunted by a conversion challenge? Baaaaaah.)

We had tried and failed to meet up after Minneapolis’ Pride celebration, and had agreed on the soonest possible alternative date, an outdoor screening of Tommy at a lakeside park downtown. I’m sure it was steamy-muggy outside. Not oppressively so, mind you, but insistent, in a nice Midwestern summer kind of way. Enough to put a sheen on the skin. That evening, as I recall, most of the steam came from a combination of our chemistry and the movie screen, on which Ann Margaret was having her way with a throw pillow and a truckload of baked beans (note to self — Tommy: NOT first date material).

While my thoughts were drifting to nothing more profound than whither and how to bust my first move, the beloved was thinking, “By god, I think I just found the father of my children! And he’s a she!”

This is a family blog, so I’m going to slip gracefully past a few details. Let’s just say that not long after, things got off to a smashing start, and only kept on smashing. I recall a phone conversation in the first week or so after that date: I was on the back steps of the house I then lived in (which I fondly refer to as Eleanor’s House of Butches). The beloved and I were talking about some emotional/psychological matter or another, and I recall the eerie sense that I was actually not encountering the solid wall I half-expected, delineating the limits of her insight. In fact, everywhere I expected to find a solid wall (“There! That’s it! No more to her after this point!”), the wall transformed into a curtain which drew aside, coaxing me further on. My mental list of Qualities an Ideal Beloved Might Possess had previously been limited to around ten. In the first heady fortnight of our mining one another, I blew past that first ten, and realized there could be twenty, thirty, more. And each item was ticked off in rapid succession. Spooky.

Two weeks after our first date I had come around to my own version of the epiphany the beloved had that first night. Namely, “By god, I think I just found the mother of my children! And she’s a hottie!” Fourteen months after that we were cohabitating — I know, I know! A full year behind lesbian schedule (cue the old U-Haul joke, linked here for the three of you who haven’t heard it already). Fourteen months after that and I had ditched grad school, pulled up my Midwestern stakes, and high-tailed it on back home to the San Francisco Bay Area, Hottie Future Mother of My Children in tow. That very next spring, several dozen loved ones came from near and far to bear witness to our public commitment to one another.

 

Like so many of our queer kin, in the absence of legal access to marriage, we created a commitment ceremony that was unfettered by convention, a truly organic event. We wanted celebrate those around us who taught and showed us how to love, as much as we wanted to symbolize our desire to be held accountable to one another by those to whom we felt most responsible. As with so many things about same-sex partnership, our existing outside the heteronormative paradigm was as much a liberation as it was a hardship. No “commitment ceremony freight train” bore down on us, dictating what should happen how, or when, or with whom. Like Thoreau picking through his life at Walden Pond, we kept what we wanted from the marriage rituals we knew about, based on their utility and their meaningfulness; we invented what we needed where it didn’t exist; and we discarded everything else. What emerged was an event, the event, that marked the beginning of our mature relationship.

We held a party following the event at my childhood home, where my father was still living four years after my mother’s death. We feasted on pot luck delicacies and toasted and danced to bal-musette music, played by half of the local band the Baguette Quartet (we could only afford what we dubbed the Baguette Duet). But there was a violin — my mother’s voice to me now — and an accordion.

Last year, on the tenth anniversary of that ceremony, we held a re-commitment ceremony attended by a clutch of friends in our back yard. The beloved showed that her dedication to me is unflagging by learning and singing bal-musette café songs, accompanied on accordion by a dear friend.

This July will mark the eleventh anniversary of our commitment ceremony and the fourteenth year after the launch of our relationship. Neither annual marker is all that symbolically significant, though I did scrounge up a website that lists traditional themes and symbols for both anniversaries (11th: steel! 14th: ivory!). Up until mid-May, we didn’t have much planned for the day. We’d thought maybe we might get the Know-It-All-Brother-In-Law and his wife to watch the kids, and we’d go out to eat. Then on May 16 the California Supreme Court handed down its historic decision in the In re Marriages Cases, finding that

the right to marry is not properly viewed simply as a benefit or privilege that a government may establish or abolish as it sees fit, but rather that the right constitutes a basic civil or human right of all people.

That would be all people. Including, finally, us. A week later, on our bathroom mirror, I taped up a rose from our garden and the printout of an online reservation I’d made. It was our appointment to obtain a marriage license in San Francisco, the city and county whose right-thinking full-hearted courage earned our $94 registration fee. (In red felt pen I circled the relevant info and posed what, based on discussions we’d had over the previous week, was a rhetorical question: Will you marry me?)

 

It is difficult to describe the complex weave of feelings we each have about the whole legal recognition shebang. See, we’re not jumping for joy, is the thing. We’re tapping our feet for joy, might be a better way to put it. I keep finding myself hemming and hawing when well-meaning, loving folks congratulate us on our pending “marriage” or “wedding.” I say: it’s not a wedding. I say: I’m not even sure it’s a marriage. Legally it is, so okay. “We are going to become legally recognized as a couple,” is what feels most right, though it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. The closest I can get is with slang: “We’re hitchin’.” I’ve spent so many years describing my relationship with language outside the marital compact, it’s not that easy to switch codes. That, and I’ve always had the full feminist compliment of beefs with that institution.

But there’s something more. My desire to protect the meaningfulness of our commitment ceremony is fierce. We made a pact, before our most intimate community, without the benediction of the state. That the state is now granting its recognition is really quite something, since up until recently it has been the state, more than anything we can imagine between us, that we’ve perceived to be the greatest threat to our family. For heterosexual people this may come as a surprise, maybe not. But there it is. All our family torn asunder nightmares involve the intercession of homophobic/heterosexist laws, upheld by homophobic/heterosexist people. So it is truly a breathtaking thing to begin to feel recognized, and by extension in some way protected, by the very system that for so long refused to see or protect us.

And at the same time it’s hard to forget those years of refusal when they occupy the overwhelming majority of my out gay life. Ask me again how I feel about it all in another twenty-five, thirty years. Maybe like around when all this goes federal. The California gay marriage decision is a blessing, to be sure, but to me it’s a mixed one. The relief from an injustice is relief. But justice shouldn’t be a gift. It is a human right, and its restoration tastes bittersweet.

 

So many different lines subdivide LGBT folks on this issue. And what I’m realizing this week is that alongside the tactical and political ones exists another, generational one. On the one side are those of us who already made commitments long before the state got a hand in this, and on the other, those who will do so after it has joined the love justice bandwagon. My beloved and I have very deep ties to a gay culture that has made its own traditions in legal exile, as it were. And we cherish them. We cherish the tenacity of our relationships, the inventiveness of our subculture when this part of it was sub. And we’re not leaving that behind in the rush to the court house.

I began to be a parent in the moments my beloved and I began to genuinely pursue her pregnancy, the more so when we tried and tried for months, the more so when I nursed her through a miscarriage and the eventual pregnancy that took, and only most obviously when I caught our first baby. When, nearly a year and a half later, the judge’s gavel came down in the county court house signifying the moment when the state recognized my parenthood, I felt more relief than elation. I felt gratitude, certainly, that our state enabled this same-sex second parent adoption. But it’s something all loving parents like me deserve access to, something that would have come along with the territory of legal marriage.

So, too, with my partner’s and my commitment to one another: its most authentic origins, even its dramatic symbolic anointment, exists in a time and place far, far away from these California court houses this summer of love. For so, so many gay people, the moment the state shines its bright protective light on our relationships will have come years and years after they really proved their legitimacy. For Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, more than fifty years.

When the beloved and I go legit this July on our anniversary, in the backyard of my childhood home where my sister now lives with her family, we plan for a modest event that will take no more time than Del and Phyllis’ city hall to-do. Which, according to all the news reports, was about six minutes. After that, the accordion.

 

fight [next in this marraige equality series: Licensed to thrill]

15 Responses to The hitchin’ post

  1. Liza June 19, 2008 at #

    As always, beautifully, beautifully put.

    Having said that, I’m delighted that the kismet of timing allows for yet another exchange of vows on the anniversary of your real wedding in this very exciting time for all of us.

    And the story of your first date and early courtship is so sweet. Thanks for sharing that too.

  2. megincl June 19, 2008 at #

    Just a note to say how much I appreciate your words and insight on this. I agree that getting legally married in MA years after our real and true and forever wedding was nothing. Merely a ritual, yes a celebration, but not a wedding with the weight that wedding carries for so many. And it is the weight and significance of all the rights that go along with that piece of paper that I’m thankful for, albeit it saddened it took so long and that so many have to wait for these rights — really, the right to live in a bit less fear of the state. So thanks for putting it into words…

  3. Studying Stones June 20, 2008 at #

    LD, as always your eloquent words bring me to the brink of tears and elation. I’m so very happy for you, your beloved, and your lil ones.

    I got a civil union in Vermont many years ago to a girl I am no longer with. However, we’re still “unioned” in the state of Vermont. I wonder if/when I will ever get to disconnect from my ex completely, and I wonder if I ever try to marry again, will the civil union cause a problem? Neither her nor I have any desire to live in Vermont for a year which is what’s required to get a “divorce”. So until the day comes where civil unions (or whatever they may be called) are more widespread I suppose I’ll stay married to someone I haven’t seen, or spoken to, in five years.

    Your walk down memory lane was especially poignant for me…at 28 years old, and three years into the relationship, I still have doubts about whether I’ve found “the one” or whether my future baby’s baba is still out there somewhere. Ah, this is getting a bit personal but suffice it to say, I wish I had someone like you in my life for friendship and advice.

  4. LesbianDad June 20, 2008 at #

    Ah, Stones. Isn’t love the scariest most wonderful most scariest thing? So is trust. Not just in people, but in the world at large, and its alrightness, whatever it’s up to.

    Watch your email inbox for more warm and runny cameraderie. 🙂

  5. Att June 20, 2008 at #

    I love, love (cannot italicize how much I love) reading your posts! Beautifully written, with utter wit and intelligence lacing every word.

    Or something eloquent, like that 🙂

    Personally, as one of those, what was it? Oh yeah “femmy theater type”s, this post made me weep a little. Not for sadness, but for the sweetness of it all. For your meeting, for your modest proposal on the bathroom mirror, for your commitment over the years to wife and children.

    Congratulations to you both for getting that piece of paper… even IF you’ve already been married for years 😉

  6. ullalauridsen June 20, 2008 at #

    Well, I’m almost sorry for congratulating you, and I really should have known better. I’m in a somewhat similar position. My husband and I bought rings and “got engaged”, making it clear to everyone that that was it. We did not intend to marry, as I dislike the institution (and my husband is nice enough to go along with everything I want). Then we had the kids etc., etc. and we realized there were some inheritance issues. Then we decided to get “the license”, a prenub and a will to sort those issues (the prenub was to take some of the sting out of it, for me). I knew my mother wouldn’t be able to handle it sensibly, so we didn’t tell anyone, not even the kids. Two years later, because all our parents worried about the legal issues, we told them that we had “done the paper work.” As expected, my mother was miffed, and she still, several years on, keeps asking “what date was it?” etc. And I feel exactly like you do: when we committed, that’s when. THAT date she unfortunately does not seem able to remember, even though it is her own birthday 🙂
    Let me at least congratulate you both on now having the legal options available to anyone else.

  7. theredbaron June 20, 2008 at #

    My wife and I felt similarly. We had our big church “wedding” commitment ceremony, which is the day we count as our anniversary. However, we definately wanted to have the civil marriage as well so we decided to traipse over to West Hollywood early Tuesday morning with our teen-aged foster daughter. We got to get our license, have the civil ceremony (for which our daughter was able to be the witness), and feel surrounding by well-wishers and festivity without taking away from the significance of our wedding day. We even got to be interviewed by a plethora of media outfits! Here’s our interview that was broadcast live…(just copy and paste the address if you’re interested).

    http://ktla.trb.com/video/?clipId=2599345&topVideoCatNo=79422&c=79422&autoStart=true&activePane=info&LaunchPageAdTag=homepage&clipFormat=

    The city of WeHo also had official city photographers taking pictures which they’ve posted on Flickr. Gotta say that for this wedding it was fun to get all the perks — flowers, cheering crowds, photographers, wedding cupcakes, etc. — on the cheap!

  8. innercitygarden June 20, 2008 at #

    I couldn’t comment earlier because of a) my toddler and b) the teary.

    Anyway, congratuations on finally getting the legal recognition of what’s always been there. Congratulations because along with lots and lots of other people you’ve worked to make that legal recognition happen by de-mystifying your family relationships by being out and honest even though it can be hard and scary and exhausting.

    And congratulations on having made a good life in the meantime, not waiting around for permission!

  9. LookyDaddy June 20, 2008 at #

    While I feel I totally understand your reticence to jump up and down and go nuts over your impending state-if-not-nation-sanctioned wedding, since I wasn’t around for the first ceremony, I’ll be jumping up and down and going nuts for this one. And you’ll just have to deal with it. So there.

    And, if given half a chance, I would teach myself the accordion just to play it afterwards.

  10. Shane June 20, 2008 at #

    Congratulations on becoming legally recognized. I hope to one day join you and the other thousands of legally recognized same-sex couples across the nation.

    I’m sure that when the time comes to my solidly blue, yet often backward home state of Michigan I will have many of the same mixed emotions as you described in your post. I currently view myself as married and in fact, just celebrated the 12th anniversary with my beloved. I was never one to dream of wedding bells and fairytale ceremonies as a child but I have been to enough weddings in my life to know that it would be nice to stand before my friends and family and proudly proclaim my undying love for the woman who has been at my side for almost half of my life (we met when I was a mere baby-dyke of just 18 and made it as official as it can be for now shortly after I turned 19 – but we had been cohabitating for over a year at that point.) Moreover, it would be wonderful for that ceremony to end with the signing of a legal document that affords all the legal rights and recognitions that should be available to us now.

    Given the status of our recently (2004) changed state constitution with the words “for any purpose” tacked onto the end of the anti gay marriage amendment, we have gone from second class citizend who must have legal document after legal document drawn up for the simple things like hospital visitation and property inheritance, to no class citizens whose documents can be thrown out in court because they “aproximate legal recognition of marriage”. For this reason we may be one of the first couples from our area to wing our way off to California post election and (hopefully) defeate of the impending amendment to your own state constitution, so that we may be legally joined in marriage in at least one state. I don’t know that I would go so far as to sue for recognition of our union in Michigan, there are so many issues involved in that, but I would at least have legal ground to stand on should something unfortunate happen to one of us and a probate court case be required.

  11. Ruffian706 June 20, 2008 at #

    So very well written, and impactful.

    If there is one thing I love about blogs (perhaps this could be fodder for the BlogHer topic?), it is the limitless opportunity to help folks understand a view and a life different from one’s own. I’ve found that, as supportive as they are, it is often hard for straight friends to understand the conflicting emotional currents that surround gay marriage–why some folk seem ambivalent about it or even opposed to it, and why many who strive for it still feel dissonance between wanting that safety net, but resisting the the thought that a piece of paper equals legitimacy. The next time such an educational opportunity arises, I will surely remember this post and point them to it.

    And the story of your courtship was a wonderful bonus. I have to say, your comment about your beloved finding the father of her children sent chills down my spine, not just for the drippy romance, but for the (non)gender recognition and context. Love is indeed an amazing thing! My own s/o and I are preparing to ford some fairly rough waters right now, but strangely it feels that, while a lot of hard work and difficulty will be involved, things will come through. (Well, OK, I feel that way…I don’t want to speak for her!) The quiet confidence and strength that has come with this is a new, strange, and wonderful feeling for me.

    So congratulations to all four of you–not for the piece of paper you will receive next month, but for the years of strength and love and perseverance that you have already enjoyed, and the many more to come.

  12. Jen June 20, 2008 at #

    Yes, yes, yes! Thanks for your articulate explanation of the complicated emotions that go along with having our relationships legally recognized. I’ve been a lurker here for some time, but this got me off the fence and made me decide it was time to post.

    My partner and I married almost exactly 2 years ago, after being together for more than five years. We gathered our community around us and promised to love and cherish each other forever. It wasn’t legal (our state doesn’t allow that), but it was very real. We ARE married.

    It seems to me that the down-side of celebrating the state’s decision to allow same-sex couples to get married, is that such celebration says that this institution has the right to decide who is “really” married. So if the CA ballot initiative goes through in November and suddenly these marriages are no longer allowed, does that make the people who marry today any less married? I would hope that the people involved in these marriages would believe that their commitment to each other continues, with or without a certificate from the state and the rights that come with it. Like you, LD, I am proud of queer culture’s ability to create our own rituals and infuse them with the meanings that we need, without sanction from the state. And I’m not too keen on giving away that power to an institution that I don’t really trust.

    AND I will be very happy (and much relieved) when our state gets around to granting my partner and I and our child-to-be (due Dec 28th!) the rights we need to take care of each other. But we are already married.

  13. Vikki June 21, 2008 at #

    Ours is a similar tale…made in Minnesota like yours. We celebrated our 15th anniversary in April and, in October, it will be 8 years since our commitment ceremoney (which was also, in a beautiful coincidence, the day our first child was conceived – yep, knocked up on my wedding day). The other day, while cooking dinner and wrangling children, I asked Luisa if she would want to get married should the option ever come our way. The conclusion…yes, we would do it for the legal protections. The thing is that we are committed to one another and have been for a very long time. We have celebrated that commitment with friends and family and mark it every year. In some ways, this marriage business seems a bit surreal to me having lived on the outside for so long. That said, I am thrilled to see all of the beautiful wedding photos coming out of California. Love is an incredible thing. Congrats to you and the beloved!

  14. Shereen June 21, 2008 at #

    So well put, as always. Up here in the Great White North, it all felt a bit… I don’t know… precarious and arbitrary, maybe? while it was still on a provincial level. Once the Supreme Court of the land stood up and did the right thing, I was surprised by the level of pride and gratitude I felt. It shouldn’t have been a question in the first place, but lots of things have taken generations to manifest that shouldn’t have.
    We said we wouldn’t get married until we were allowed to do it in our own back yard. Did it change anything? Yes, strangely. We didn’t need it for ourselves, but it worked some kind of mojo on folks around us. My wife’s parents got it, finally. They understood that what we have is equal to what they have, if very different in the details. And it made things feel a bit easier, like you were saying to stand for once with the law of society on our side.
    So as much as you don’t need it for your relationship – congratulations. We can never have too many occasions to celebrate love.

  15. dimplecheek June 24, 2008 at #

    “But justice shouldn’t be a gift. It is a human right, and its restoration tastes bittersweet.”

    Now there’s a T-Shirt!

    Congratulations on your anniversary next month! As always, a pleasure to read your words.

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