Facebook Fail – Outed by Mark Zuckerberg and The Huffington Post

I learned some lessons this week about blogging “anonymously” while “technologically challenged.”  A few weeks ago, I asked the few friends who actually know about Undercover in the Suburbs to “like” a post of mine that appeared on RoleReboot.org.  I foolishly did not realize this would appear in their news feeds.  I found out this week that my friend’s colleague, mother-in-law, and husband all read my post after Facebook announced she had read it.  The first two don’t know me, but of course her husband put two and two together and found my blog.  Outed.  Fail.

The next day, I was checking traffic to my blog and noticed a very pronounced spike.  When I checked to see how all these people were finding my site, I saw the words Huffington Post in several of the referring links.  My heart stopped and raced all at once.  Could it be?  I clicked on the link, and there was my article!!  I was thrilled and horrified all at once.  MY article on HuffPo!  Ah, but did it have to be my article questioning compulsory monogamy, and on the “weddings” page no less?  As I read through the comments I felt ill.  I came home from work that night in quite a state.  “Are all these people right about me?” I questioned Seth.  The comments triggered my deepest fears that my writing and self-exploration is a selfish pursuit that’s going to harm my family.  After reading through the comments, Seth assured me I was only attending to the most negative comments and that most of them were perfectly benign.  Still, I had had no preparation for exposure to such a mixed audience.  I was used to respectful debate, not personal attack.

“This woman is a certifiable loon.”

 “This post is a break in the emotional intimacy of your marriage.”

 “This article is me, me, me…”

 “She needs a shrink, oh I forgot, she is one… I guess I would not go to her for help.”

 “She might need a whole gaggle of shrinks to fix what’s broke.”

 “No mention of the husband of kids, they are collateral damage to her mental weakness it seems.”

 “Sounds like she wants some beaver on the side, and Seth isn’t going for it.”  (Have to give this one credit for being humorous, albeit offensively so)

 “Maybe it’s just me, but this lady seems selfish and immature.”

One of the things therapists often helps folks with is distinguishing between thought and behavior.  It may seem obvious, but at times the two can become quite entangled.  There is a difference between questioning the societal norms that lead people to marriage and monogamy, and actually straying from your marriage (assuming monogamy is the agreement between you and your partner).  I guess using myself as an example in the post runs the risk of eliciting reactions to me as a person.  Of course, if you take the post literally and not as a personal essay questioning a societal script, you would be concerned about my husband and children.  However, I also have to ask myself how much of the reactions relate back to the expectation that women/mothers be focused on their families and completely satisfied with that focus.  My husband and children are my #1 priority, but they are not my only priority, and I believe as a woman I should be able to write many articles which don’t consider their perspective at all.

Later this week I received an ominous email from a friend.  It was innocuous enough, asking if we needed him to babysit on a certain day – except – it referred to me as “Lyla.”  Not knowing where he had seen this, or who else knew, I panicked.  I wrote back demanding he reveal the source of the leak.  This time The Huffington Post and Facebook had conspired to out me.  I had simply loaded the (Huffington Post page) where my piece was published.  Later, I saw reported in my Facebook news feed that I had read it.  I deleted that from my feed, but it was too late.  There was a hole in the dyke (no pun intended).  I simply clicked on a page, and I was outed.  I feel like Facebook knows where I am and what I’m doing at all times.  If I don’t tell them someone else does.  Damn you Zuckerberg!  He knows and sees all, and reports on it to random high school classmates, my very Catholic, republican cousins, my mother’s friends, my ex co-workers, my DAD.  Who else saw that post on my news feed and found my blog?  Dad, are you there?  I’ll never know.  My brother says I gave HuffPo permission to post that on my news feed.  When?  How?   I feel like I’m going to look at my news feed one of these days and see “Lyla Cicero masturbated.  9:30 a.m.”  Jeez!

Okay reader, I know what you’re thinking.  First of all, ‘seriously, you don’t know these things can end up in your news feed?’  And secondly, ‘you have broadcast your personal thoughts all over the internet, and you expect no one to find out?’  The truth is I am quite conflicted about being open about many of the things I talk about here.  On the one hand, I’m thrilled and amazed that people want to publish my writing, and that people resonate with the topics and can relate to my experiences.  On the other hand, I’m feeling like what started as a pin prick could turn into a gushing wound with no way to stop the bleeding.

What’s done on the internet is done.  Just by publishing that piece suggesting people consider polyamory before marriage could create limitations for me in the future.  One need not look far to see the ways in which prior statements and opinions can impact folks later in life.  And then there are my conflicts about coming out.  Here I am writing about how invisible and unseen I feel, and yet, the idea of friends and family finding out scares me.  I mean anyone could be reading this right now, even my great aunt the nun.  She already picks fights with me about gay marriage.

So as all this was happening I realized I need to thicken my skin.  I need to be able to stand behind what I’m doing and practice what I preach.  And besides, if I’m putting all this stuff out there I must want people to know.  I do want to be seen.  Making an anonymous blog and trying to get posts published elsewhere is like leaving my journal out and then being mad that my parents found it even though I secretly wanted them to.  I have to ask myself, isn’t there a part of me that wants to not be “undercover.”  Then I can just know once and for all what the reactions will be.  If folks will be disgusted by the things I think about, the way I identify, and think I’m a horrible wife and mother, so be it.  And who knows, maybe I’ll be surprised at how many are accepting.  After all, Zuckerberg, some of the people in my life know me a little better this week due to your not-so-subtle attempts at world domination.

Besides, I have already encountered some amazing people through blogging who are enriching my life, in some cases in person, and in others from thousands of miles away.

Just a small sample:

Fellow twin mom Deborah Siegal writes “Note to Self:  Must Meet Lyla Cicero one of these days,” and links to my post on her blog.

Made-in-Italy writes on Tumblr in a post about “coming out as a feminist mamma” stating, “Lyla Cicero, who blogs at Undercover in the Suburbs, has nailed how I feel as a feminist mother living in Italy in this post at Offbeat Mama.”  She goes on to quote my article, ending her post with “I’m with you sister!”

Another reader writes in an email “I feel like you give voice to many of my thoughts and feelings in very articulate, mindful ways (and this from a man).”

Kate the Great writes on offbeat mama, “I could have written this myself.  But now I don’t have to, because you said it so well.  Thank-you.”

Being undercover is risky, but for now, it is worth-it.

Copyright 2012 undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.



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Bridal and Baby Showers – Tradition or Torture?

Originally on featured on RoleReboot.org, also posted on Jezebel.com.

There are few things women feel more ambivalent about then bridal and baby showers.  I think it’s in part because in their traditional form, showers are places where gender stereotypes and unattainable expectations live.  They are where we go to pretend we are living the fantasy lives we believe we are supposed to be living and hide the lives we are truly living.  The specific meaning of showers will change over the course of our lives, but for many women, these gatherings bring about self-doubt and reinforce notions that marriage and babies should be the primary focus in our lives.

The ever popular bouquet of bows (barf)!

Around the time I graduated high school, a cousin of mine became a teen mother.  I remember my grandmother repeatedly telling me, “She gave her mother a beautiful baby.”  My grandma provided no validation for my ambitious pursuit of higher education and was unimpressed that I was attending a prestigious college.  In her mind, all I had given my mother was a pile of debt.  She would have preferred a great-grandchild.  Showers behave in much the same way, rewarding certain life choices over others.  They send the message that babies and marriages are events worthy of all the women in your life gathering together in your honor.  We don’t get showers for finishing our dissertations, writing books, improving our mental health, training for marathons, landing the perfect job, being well-read, advocating for oppressed groups, getting promotions, or choosing to live sustainably.  Further, traditionally men don’t attend showers, offensively suggesting that marriage and children are more pivotal in the lives of women than men.

Carrie Bradshaw’s character in a classic Sex and the City episode gives voice to many women’s frustrations when, exasperated by attending and buying gifts for so many bridal and baby showers, she insists that as a single, childless woman she deserves a shower too.  For many women, showers bring about painful feelings that change throughout the lifespan.  When I was single, bridal showers triggered all my fears about ending up alone.  When I myself was a bride, they churned up all my ambivalent feelings about traditional marriage rituals and how to negotiate them.  More recently, bridal showers evoke a new set of uncomfortable feelings surrounding whether to warn the bride about all the things I wish I had known before making the choice to marry – like how hard marriage is!  I have yet to encounter a life stage in which bridal showers take on a truly festive emotional tone!

I can tell you there is nothing more excruciating than a woman who is silently facing infertility having to attend a baby shower.  On the very day I received the news that I had a serious fertility problem, a baby shower invitation showed up in the mail – yet another cousin with a “beautiful baby” for my Catholic-Italian relatives to rub in my face before confusedly asking me why I’m still in school after so long.  Luckily, my merciful husband snatched up the invitation, quietly ordered a gift online, RSVP’ed that we could not attend, and trashed that thing before I could come anywhere near it.  Although I am now a mother as well as a wife, I find myself somewhat less morally tormented at baby showers than bridal showers because the damage is already done.  The woman is pregnant, so there’s no point in telling her how hard parenting really is.

Spurred mostly by greed, I myself consented to a traditional bridal shower, an all-female event during which I sat on a throne-like chair pretending to be enthralled by house-wares and kitchen gadgets that I had picked out myself, and that I knew my future husband was going to be the one using.  I also received advice including such egalitarian gems as “When he gives you the grocery money, put a little aside for yourself each week,” and “Make sure you let him think he’s smarter than you.”  But the fact was, we needed those items and couldn’t afford them ourselves.  In order to un-due the icky feelings from that shower we had another “shower,” a co-ed cocktail party at a local wine-bar with no gift opening to be had.

Pot I picked out myself, sans feigned excitement.

Many of us use the excuse of needing loot when we engage in shower rituals, but I think the truth is there is more to it.  I missed out on my baby shower because I was on bed rest the last three months of my pregnancy.  As ambivalent as I was about the shower, I feel cheated to this day.

The truth is we do need support and time set aside to process major life transitions.  Some female friends and I began the tradition of calling events before weddings and births “transitional gatherings.”  My pre-wedding “transitional gathering” was one of the most meaningful, special days of my life.  It involved my best female friends and me walking, eating, and drinking our way through my favorite spots in Manhattan.  At each destination, one of them presented me with a scrapbook page documenting our relationship, and spoke about what I meant to them.  At the last destination, my future husband joined us with his own page.  It was a day to celebrate the relationships that had taught me how to love, and to be honest about the loss inherent in transitions, even celebratory ones.  The truth was, I needed to celebrate that I had found a life partner, but also to grieve that all the other relationships in my life were going to change forever.  I’m guessing my husband could have used a “transitional gathering” as well.

Now that I am a mother, I am all too acquainted with the loss involved in becoming a parent.  I think part of what I missed out on at that shower was getting a lot of positive attention and support that might have helped bolster me for those first few sleepless months, and for the emotional turmoil inherent in becoming a mother.  Sure, I really did need the gear.  It helps defray costs, but it also sends a message.  It sends a message that all these women in your life are there, metaphorically giving you what you need to do this thing.  I guess for me, I would have liked the process to be more literal.  I would have liked to sit down with experienced mothers and have them warn me about how I was going to feel – about the paralyzing ambivalence of loving your children so much it’s terrifying, and managing terrifying feelings of losing oneself.  I wish they had given me advice not about products to buy and baby soothing techniques, but about how to believe you are a good mother and still feel like a whole person – especially in a culture that tells us that the best mothers no longer want to be people.

So there is a kind of logic to events that mark life transitions that are fraught with mixed emotions.  We may, in fact, need a little extra support and attention prior to marriage and birth because, unlike getting our degrees or progressing at work, they are not only times to celebrate, but times to grieve.  However, the way we approach showers tends to gloss over those mixed emotions causing them to stay hidden, and reinforcing stereotypes in the process.  If we don’t make showers about the truth of marriage and birth, the joy and the sorrow, then they simply serve to make everyone feel like they are the only ones feeling ambivalent and experiencing loss.  As for the all-female attendance, if showers could be about helping women navigate their internal experience as well as the cultural messages around motherhood and marriage, it would make sense for other women to participate.  However, I can’t see why men shouldn’t have the same opportunity.

Copyright 2012, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Lyla Cicero

Pot Envy

Trigger Warnings:  Drugs,  Written while in a dark, jaded mental state

It’s 4/20.  That’s right… four–twenty, and I am sitting here staring at a bottle of Zoloft.  I just returned from an evening jog through town on my way to the pharmacy to procure said Zoloft, with my kids in the jogging stroller.  I live near a university, so there are many graduate students in our town (I used to be one of them).  But tonight I was passing so many groups of students, some carrying cases of Corona, others with large bags of Thai take-out, some decked out, others casual, but all with a bit of a spring in their step.  What is going on tonight, I kept thinking – the weather has definitely gotten warmer – and then it hit me, four-twenty, and I thought about my plan for the evening which included showering and deciding whether to take this Zoloft.  After a serious pang of jealousy, I realized, I have pot envy.

Back in college, 4/20 would have been met with an eye-roll followed by staying in my dorm room alone while my friends (all much cooler than I) went out to some party I wouldn’t have approved of.  It wasn’t so much the pot itself that I had a problem with, it was the peer pressure.  Ever since I can remember, I’ve responded to peer pressure by spitefully refusing to do whatever I’m being pressured to, even if that refusal defies all logic and reason.  This same phenomenon lies at the root of my utter obliviousness toward pop culture.  No, I’m not really too dumb to remember the names of celebrities, television shows, and movies.  I’m simply so oppositional that I will myself not to know.  The more people that are doing something, the less likely that I do it!  Every-time I heard, “Oh, come on Cicero… Cicero’s gonna smoke tonight… tonight’s the night… Smoke! Smoke! Smoke!” my will to never smoke became stronger.  I would NEVER give them the satisfaction!!  So I dug my heals in, and they’ve pretty much been dug in ever since… except I’m almost 35 years old and no one’s pressuring me to smoke pot anymore.  In fact, the peer pressure now is quite different.  Not only am I supposed to totally overdo this mothering thing, but I’m supposed to love every minute of overdoing it, obliterating my soul in the process!  Mindfuck.  Enter Zoloft.

As a therapist, I am forever suggesting that patients go consult with a psychiatrist.  It’s part of my job.  I can’t prescribe meds, and for some people psychotropic meds are the only way to maintain functioning.  For many others, they relieve unnecessary suffering.  Despite this, I have always been vehemently against taking anti-depressants myself.  I rode out a serious depressive episode in college, my mother’s fight with and death from brain cancer, and a lifetime of anxiety without them.  I have resorted to sleeping pills (“benzos” as we therapist-types lovingly refer to the class of drugs including Klonopin, Zanex, Ativan, etc.), starting after mom died, and on and off since then.  The last few months have been one of those times.

So I finally found a psychiatrist I can get along with.  This is no small feat as my interactions with psychiatrists (as well as most medical doctors) typically end with increasing levels of hostility followed by me refusing to return, then having to find another doctor who I know will be an even bigger asshole.  But he is strangely immune to my provocations.  So I told him at our first session two months ago that I’ve always been anxious, that I’m have post-traumatic stress symptoms most likely related to my own childhood and triggered by being a mother myself now, as well as by the miscarriage I had in December.  Like any respectable psychiatrist, he suggests an anti-depressant.  (For those non mental-health nerds among you, anti-depressants work fairly well and are the first-line pharmacological treatment for anxiety).  I politely refuse.  Shortly after that, my best friend (also a shrink) tells me I need to go on an anti-depressant, after I tell her for the millionth time about how emotional I’ve been over my marital problems.  Well this gets me thinking, but I decide to give it a few more weeks.

So today I saw Dr. Strangely Reasonable, and I had to admit to him that on top of everything else I’d mentioned before, I’ve now resorted to sleeping in a tent in my backyard to try and get rest… and here I am with this prescription.  The thought that if I could be less anxious it would probably be better for my babies has also crossed my mind.  Plus, he was just so damn nice about it.  He didn’t try to push me at all… unlike those pot-pushers in college, he knew just how to draw me in!  Subtle bastard!

Which brings me to my primary question as I sit here on 4/20 staring at a bottle of Zoloft – should I be using pot to control my symptoms?  After repeatedly telling anxious patients to go see a psychiatrist and hearing how well pot is controlling their symptoms and how they’d rather use a natural remedy than psychotropic meds, I’ve started to wonder.  Another anxious mother.   A young man with bipolar disorder who is able to keep a job for the first time by smoking pot whenever he can tell he’s in danger of a problematic outburst at work.  A transgender patient who is saving his marriage by smoking pot every night so he doesn’t lay awake wishing he was a woman – do they all know something I don’t?  Physician heal thyself… with weed?

I even have colleagues who subtly advise patients toward marijuana over anti-depressants, especially for anxiety.   Some of those colleagues also prefer pot for their own symptoms (we shrinks are an anxious bunch, hence choosing a profession where you’re basically paid to be anxious and obsessional about other people’s problems).  I always prefer natural solutions, and I’m not at all sure putting my money into the drug trade is any less problematic than funneling it to the pharmaceutical companies.  So instead of popping pills should I be embracing the ganja?  Is this what I’m missing?  Is this how the other grownups are dealing with toddlers, twinsanity, marital problems, work-life balance, the general absurdity of existence, the fact that we’ll still be paying off our student loans when our kids start college, and the recognition that the government is spying on us even with Obama in office, while big agra and big pharma work together to keep us fat and sick as the FDA looks the other way?  Am I just an arm of the corporate machine pushing pills that will numb my patients out to the reality of the modern condition thus preventing revolution?  Is Zoloft the new opium of the masses?

Even my best friend’s DAD smokes pot.  He is some kind of expert in it.  He knows which kinds pick you up, which bring you down, he’s a regular weed-kipedia.  I feel like I’m doing things backward sometimes.  What was I doing in college when everybody else was experimenting with drugs, and apparently learning how to manage their mental health symptoms in the process?  What was I doing while everybody was experimenting with different sexual partners and in some cases, orientations?  I was distracted by righteous indignation.  I was trying to save my mother from my father, and later from a brain tumor.  I didn’t trust people enough to have sex and I didn’t trust myself enough to do drugs.  So can an old dog learn new tricks?  My friend’s Dad has.  Ani DiFranco’s latest album features a song which hails the benefits of promiscuity, but ends with how she’s monogamous now and happier for it.  If Ani can choose monogamy, can’t I choose pot?  Why does the trajectory have to be from wild to restrained, kinky to vanilla?  Is it too late for me to go through my rebellious phase?  Promiscuity could be tricky at this point what with the marriage thing and all… but I never vowed not to become a pothead.

Ani’s a mother now too.  At her shows this winter she bemoaned the fact that she tried to raise her kid gay, but it wasn’t working.  Even HER daughter is obsessed with princesses.   Does Ani herself struggle with unrealistic expectations of mothers?  Does she feel closeted and invisible as a mother, married to a male?  Does she struggle with how to stay true to her feminist/radical/queer ideals?  Ani, how do you balance work and family?  How do you balance being a mother with being the fucking coolest person in the world?  I bet you pick up a joint from time to time.  Or are you too staring down Zoloft bottles?  What’s a girl to do, Ani?  There are so many questions.  Where would I get the pot, there’s the whole legality issue, what about my lungs, I guess I could get a vaporizer, or I could do the baked goods thing, but that combined with the munchies could prove really dangerous for my ass.  Please, Ani, I’m sitting here in my tent waiting for a sign from goddess…

 In the meantime, I guess I’m going to go ahead and take this fucking Zoloft… bottoms up!  God Bless America!

Copyright 2012, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.

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True Mommy Confessions 3 – Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

I clipped four fingernails this week.  Four out of forty, and they were all on the docile one.

There was a poop incident.  J pulled his own diaper off and tasted what was inside.

I dropped O one day as the nanny was walking up.  I think I was just so done my arms gave out when I saw her.

The babies have a hit out on a mole on my chest.  They take turns trying to rip it off.  Today O found another one on my neck… damn!

We go outside now.  I’m just letting them eat dirt… and basically anything else organic, unless it is large enough for them to choke on.

There was another poop incident.  This time with something that didn’t go down when the toilet was flushed – still experiencing post-traumatic stress over that one.

Incidents involving shit make me feel the most like shit.

There’s this sweet moment when you think a baby wants you to pick him/her up to be close to you… but almost immediately an inevitable little hand points in the direction he/she wants to go and a guttural noise accompanies it, which probably roughly translates to “go now” or in some cases “go now bitch!” Is this what it feels like to be a horse?

Three calls to poison control… that makes my record one every 5 months.  Could be worse right!  They were all for her.  He doesn’t waste time eating toxic substances when he could be eating actual food.

Three baths in 15 months.  That makes my bath record the same as my poison control record.  Eek!  Everyone else just seems to be better at it than I am.  It’s fucking scary bathing the two of them!

I’ve had a prescription for fluoride in my wallet for three months.  Perhaps when they’re in high school I’ll make a decision about whether to give it to them.

I honestly don’t think my shoulders are going to make it.

I leave a lot.  The more I leave, the happier I am when I return.  Whoever said “absence makes the heart grow fonder” must have been a parent.

I am writing this from a tent in my backyard.  I have been sleeping here.  It is the only quiet place I can get any real rest.

A room of one's own?

O’s idea of kisses is biting my chin as hard as possible.  Other forms of affection include putting her fingers (keep in mind the razor-sharp, refusing-to-let-them-be-cut nails) in my nose and trying to rip it off, shoving her whole hand down my throat, poking out my eyes, and pulling large chunks, small wisps, or single strands of hair.  Then there is the face scratching.  My patients must think I’m being abused at home.

J’s approaches to affection include “mount and hump” and “nuzzle and squeeze.”  “Mount and hump” involves climbing up my body, finding a position guaranteed to cause maximum discomfort, and then bouncing up and down as hard as his little body can muster.  “Nuzzle and squeeze” starts out okay with him nuzzling his little head between my breasts, however, to make sure he has me right where he wants me, he tends to grab my nipples and squeeze mid nuzzle.  He also tries to rip my ears off.

But OH how I would long for that pain…  It is, after all, the sweetest pain in the world.  I’m reminded of Giles Corey in The Crucible as he was being pressed to death exclaiming, “More weight!”  The crushing self-doubt, the paralyzing ambivalence, the ever-present anxiety, the physical attacks… Isn’t that what parenting is…

“…to bleed willingly and joyfully.”  (Kahlil GibranThe Prophet:  Love)

 (DO NOT respond to this post with the advice that I bite off those goddamned nails!!  Don’t do it!)

Copyright 2012, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.

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Undercover in the Suburbs Featured on Ms. Magazine Blog

“Undercover” was featured this week on the Ms. Magazine’s Blog as part of the “Femisphere” series thanks to The Mamafesto’s Avital Norman Nathman.

Thanks to Avital, I was lucky enough to take part in a fascinating virtual round-table with a group of feminist “mommy” bloggers.  We talked about motherhood, feminism, and where the two meet both within our own lives, and in the blogosphere.

You can see the Ms. Blog here, or an extended account of the round-table on The Mamafesto here.  Both have links to the feminist sites that were included.


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Marriage and Compulsory Monogamy – Are We Making Informed Choices?

Seth and I at our Partnership Ceremony

Seth and I at our Partnership Ceremony

Originally Posted on RoleReboot.org.

What’s the best way to predict if a couple will get married?  Find out how many of their friends have!  In many social groups, once one or two friends marry the rest will drop like flies.  So is marriage merely a form of peer pressure?  Do we all want to avoid being the last single person left standing?   If so, are we really getting married for the right reasons?

Between the ages of 28 and 32, I felt like I was attending one wedding per weekend.  As someone who had always viewed marriage with skepticism, it was only when I found a truly egalitarian partner that I considered getting married for the first time.  Seth and I viewed our “un-wedding” partnership ceremony as a form of resistance to peer pressure.  But despite our insistence on expressing our feminist values, honoring those who did not share the privilege of legal marriage, and refusing to engage with the wedding industrial complex, we were still thinking relatively inside the box.  We were still making a heterosexual, legally-sanctioned, long-term partnership with an assumption of monogamy.

One of my best friends is getting hitched next month.   Almost five years after my wedding, as I support her through her journey to marriage, I’m seriously wondering if my own is going to make it.  After a stressful infertility experience and fifteen months raising twins together, my relationship is in its toughest period yet.  I’ve never had a “that won’t happen to me” attitude about divorce.  Being a therapist, I understand how tough the dynamics of couples’ relationships can be to navigate.  I always felt that even trying as hard as I knew I would, it could, indeed, be me.  What I didn’t know was what it would feel like to try that hard and have to face the possibility that it might not be enough.  I didn’t understand that I could still be so in love with my husband, still see him as an amazing partner, and yet wonder if it’s possible for us both to get our needs met while raising children, managing careers, and constantly evolving as individuals.

I’ve realized that most of Seth’s and my exposure back then was to the beginning of a marriage.  For our parents, the reasons for marrying, the life-stage they were in when it happened, and the ways in which they negotiated their relationships were so foreign, it was easy to write-off those marriages as having nothing to do with ours.   We really didn’t have much interaction with people who’d been married longer, were divorced, were single by choice, or who were in non-marital relationship structures, either monogamous or polyamorous.  We understood that our gay and lesbian friends weren’t focused on marriage, but our response was outrage that they could not marry, rather than questioning whether matrimony was or should be everyone’s ideal.  I can only imagine how alienating that time period was for many of my queer friends.

That lack of exposure led our social circle to a kind of groupthink about marriage – an assumption that even though it would be hard, it would be worth it.  I even found myself about a year ago proclaiming the benefits of marriage to a friend who was thinking more critically about whether to marry.  My argument included the ways in which the cultural meaning of marriage and the social support marriage engendered had deepened and strengthened my relationship.  But cultural acceptance makes a lot of other paths—paths that I have rejected—easier, too.  What about encouraging more social support for other relationship structures?  Were the positive feelings I attributed to marriage merely evidence that I, who once saw marriage an oppressive, patriarchal institution, had caved to the peer pressure?  Was I basking in the glow of doing the popular thing, rather than in the glow of marriage itself?

Even if those around us don’t actively pressure us to follow their paths, a lack of other models creates a tendency to default to what others have done.  I have seen that kind of “default” at play as, on an almost daily basis, ultrasound pictures appear on Facebook.  Can they all really making a fully conscious choice to raise families, I ask myself?   At the same time, I’ve watched the rare friends who have chosen not to have children feel alienated and misunderstood.   Resisting peer pressure can be painful, but not resisting it can be as well.  This year Seth and I felt like our own family was being torn apart as our “couple best friends” divorced.  Just like marriage, divorce can spread through social groups as unhappy couples see others finding a way out and exploring new lives outside their relationships.  Other challenges to traditional notions of marriage can also spread through social groups such as exploring queer identity, kink lifestyles, and/or polyamory.  Unfortunately, many of us don’t come to the place where we are ready to consider all of our options until we have the big, socially sanctioned life choices like marriage and children under our belts.

If I could talk to myself back then, before the marriage juggernaut came barreling towards us, I wouldn’t necessarily tell myself not to get married.  I would, however, ask myself whether when I decided I could be a married feminist, I was still defaulting to a hetero-normative, monogamous lifestyle, rather than making a more conscious, more intentional choice.   I would want Seth and me to at least consider a long-term, non-married partnership.  I would want us to talk about whether two adults in a marriage really is the best approach to both relationship and family structure.  There are times when it feels like both my marriage and child-rearing would be more manageable with more adults involved.  I wish someone had warned me that when the terror of spending life alone is not drowning them out, our desires to explore our own sexuality can become louder.  We can suddenly feel unhappy with our level of sexual experience, find out we are a lot queerer than we thought, or that we are not sexually compatible with our partner.  In all marriages, we inevitably realize there are things our partners can’t provide us, and have to reconcile either getting those needs met elsewhere or going without.

Can we ever really fully understand our vows when we make them?

Many couples discuss whether they will have children, what religion they will practice, and how they will handle finances before marrying.  But, few discuss how they will keep their sex lives exciting, how they would handle it if their marriage became mixed orientation, or whether polyamory or an open relationship might be an option.  Seth and I thought we were thinking outside the box, but we didn’t realize that there were other boxes.  Ironically, marriage often provides the stability and safety for us to explore ourselves more fully.  For some, this can deepen the marital relationship, but for others it can lead to the realization that the partner they are with is no longer the right one.  These are the things they don’t tell you in the bridal magazines, or talk about at all those wedding showers.  How many romantic comedies end with the female lead realizing that, while her husband is really good in bed and a great father, he’s not emotionally available enough?

The peer pressure to marry doesn’t necessarily suggest a problem with marriage itself, but a lack of other cultural models.  This results in a lot of people choosing marital and family structures by default rather than by intention – a kind of compulsory monogamy.  If I were advising young adults today, I would tell them to seek out people who have set up their relationships and lives in a variety of ways, including traditional monogamous marriage.  I would tell them to pursue diverse sexual experiences and explore their sexual orientations before committing to monogamy, or consider relationship structures in which continued exploration could be on the table.  I would tell them that marriage is hard–incredibly hard.  But, I would have to add that the best things in life inevitably are.  I don’t regret getting married, but as I make the decision each day to remain married, I believe I’m doing it with greater and greater intention as I glance down more of the roads not taken and realize what it is I’ve actually chosen, and what I’ve given up.

Copyright 2012, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.

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Secret Agent – Why Queer Invisibility Matters

This weekend I was at a lesbian bar in New York City with a lesbian friend of mine. At one point, she went to the bathroom, leaving me in that awkward position of being in a bar alone, desperately trying to act like I’m not feeling awkward that I’m in a bar alone. A few moments later, a woman approached me. “Is that your girlfriend?” she asked, gesturing toward the bathroom. “Nope, best friend,” I said. “She’s beautiful,” the woman continued. I was thrilled! So my best friend was getting more attention in the bar than I, I was used to that. Besides, I was more than a little ambivalent about how to handle potential interest from other patrons. I knew it would mean having to navigate explaining that I was married (to a man) with children, and be accountable to my husband for whatever happened next.

I was, in fact, thrilled by the woman’s comment simply because I had been seen! Even though she wasn’t expressing interest in me, her question necessarily implied that I she saw me as queer. I was believable to her as somebody’s girlfriend. In that moment, I was suddenly aware of what I’d been missing for so many years.

In college, I used to hang out at a place called Girlbar in Chicago. I loved Girlbar because I could dance and have fun and never had to deal with predatory men approaching me or even in some cases touching me. I’d had enough of the supposedly unintentional hand drifting up my side, moving toward my breast, as men walked by in a too-crowded bar. Never a problem at Girlbar! Ironically, though, I had a different problem at Girlbar. No one ever seemed to notice me. No one flirted with me or approached me at all. Even at school, where I lived in the gay dorm, hung out with gay friends, never had sexual relationships with men, and had plenty of ambiguous, overly touchy-feely friendships with women – even there, no one ever seemed to wonder if I wasn’t straight.

At the time, I thought my frustration with not being notice was about not feeling attractive. I wanted women to notice me because I wanted to feel like I was an attractive person. I would think to myself, ‘I’m not gay, but I could be… I easily could be… what’s wrong with me?’ I realize now that even though I wasn’t sure of it in my own mind, I was indeed queer, and I wanted to feel visible. Is it asking a lot to expect others to see what even you can’t? Sure. But even for those who are beyond certain about their own identities, queer people can be horrendously invisible in our culture. And there are many others like me who don’t realize they are queer, or even consider whether they are, because of queer invisibility.

If even when all the signs around me pointed to my being potentially gay, my gay-affirmative social group and gender studies peers were oblivious to my orientation, imagine how invisible I am now as a Pansexual woman married to a man. Even a trusted professional supervisor of mine who identifies as bisexual herself and is an expert on queer identity assumed I was straight. This one was particularly painful, because I knew that if she couldn’t see me no one would. I know I could cut my hair off and dress really butch and be more visible as queer, but that’s not me. If I did it, it would only be to make myself more visible, and not a true expression of who I am. That seems lame.

My long "straight girl" hair.

People need to know there are queer girls who don’t look obviously queer or have obviously queer lifestyles. I feel like queer identities should be more in our consciousness – we should be looking for them – we need to stop the hetero-until-proven-otherwise default. If I myself had been more aware of queer identities, I probably would have found a way to understand my own sooner. I didn’t even hear the term Pansexual until a couple years ago. Had I heard it in college, I may have been sure enough about who or what I was to say to all those queer folks, “Hey, I’m one of you!”

Sometimes I feel like the Melissa Etheridge song Secret Agent should be playing in the background of my life. Wherever I am, I am undercover, a spy from the other side, with a secret identity I can hide… or not. As I straddle the world of suburban married motherhood and the west village gay scene, I realize just how limiting the available identities in our culture still are. While I can be seen as queer now if I’m in the right context (one in which the assumption might be queer-until-proven-not), how many of the patrons at Cubbyhole will wonder if I’m married to a male? In order to get noticed and make a cultural imprint gay folks have had to draw a hard line, positioning themselves as not straight, or even, in some ways, the opposite of straight. Pansexuality (and bisexuality), however, require people to consider very different identity constructs at once.

What will it take for us to imagine as a culture all the gray areas of sexual and gender identity? That mom at the mall wrangling her kids in the food court may, in fact, prefer pussy. That woman making out with a woman at Cubbyhole may at another time in her life have passed as straight when out with her boyfriend. That Dad on the soccer field could have carried his son himself in the uterus he possesses as a natal female.

The truth is most of us are secret agents in some way. It is, in fact, the minority who fit neatly into the identity categories the culture has already processed and the narrow ways they are conceptualized. So ask yourself next time if the person in front of you in line at the supermarket was born with the genitalia you might think, if that mommy at your play group needs a babysitter Friday night so she and her husband can go to a kink club where they can engage in bondage and discipline, and if that ordinary looking heterosexual couple might both indentify as queer.

The problem with queer invisibility is that it limits the possibilities for everyone’s identity. The more ways of living and being we can see, the more gray areas we live in, the more choices we all have for our lives. We can either remain hidden from each other, or worse, never even understand who we within ourselves are because we haven’t seen anything we can relate to modeled in the culture. Or, we can work to truly see each other, and in turn, ourselves. Indeed, we are all Secret Agents… you can believe it or not!

 Copyright 2012, undercoverinthesuburbs.com.  All Rights Reserved.

My Husband Does Do That – My Journey out of the Equal Parenting Closet

Seth holding the twins.

Originally Posted on RoleReboot.org, also featured on Feministing.com, and Offbeat Mama:

The first time it happened, I was at a Mothers of Multiples Club welcome brunch.  My fantasy was that my terror at the impending birth of my twins would dissipate as soon as I met the wise kindred spirits who would be guiding me through the transition to multiple-motherhood.  Much to my surprise, however, brunch soon descended into a husband-bashing session, replete with the kind of ominous warnings I would receive over and over during my pregnancy.

“Make sure you leave the house when they’re a few months old.  I waited three years to leave my kids alone with my husband, and now he refuses to babysit,” one mom insisted.  My initial response was confusion.  I was planning to leave the house the first week.  I had written my doctoral dissertation on equally shared parenting for frig’s sake!  Caught totally off guard, I responded, “That’s not going to be a problem for me.”  Several of the women chuckled sweetly, shooting me the pitying “you’ll see” glance I would receive time and time again.

What was this strange land I was entering?  These were smart, accomplished moms –some working, some stay-at-home– all of whom swore that when kids came into the picture, roles changed overnight.  Were the brilliant, creative, feminist women I’d known in college really now accepting such arrangements?  My twin terror was quickly compounded by the fear of losing the egalitarian marriage I so valued.

Well, fourteen months into motherhood my marriage is as egalitarian as ever.  However, the “our husbands suck and don’t do anything” motif turned out to be rampant at the mommy meet-ups and play-dates that were supposed to help maintain my sanity during the first year with infant twins.  Now don’t get me wrong, my husband can be an ass.  Then again, so can I!  But the truth is– (hushed whisper) I like my husband.  He is a fantastic husband.  No one has the perfect marriage, but it was the gendered aspects of the husband-bashing which eluded me most– husbands not “helping” around the house, never “watching the kids,” oblivious to routines and childcare tasks.

Despite my relief that my own marriage hadn’t followed this path, my own parenting experience felt utterly erased during these conversations.  I would feel like a total asshole if I sat there repeating, “My husband does do that,” and adding obnoxiously, “My husband cleans more than I do.”  So instead I just passed, keeping my identity practicing equally shared parenting hidden.  I was also a queer mom passing as straight at these gatherings, but amazingly, stating, “My husband taught me how to swaddle,” orSometimes Seth is more comfortable with our kids than I am,” felt more threatening than announcing I was queer.

When I really examined my fear, I realized it felt like I would be “coming out” as a bad mom.  Had we somehow gotten the message that fairness and equality were okay for us to enjoy in our marriages but to be good mothers, we had to be the ones drastically rearranging our lives to make room for children?  If my husband was parenting as well as me, must I not be parenting well at all?

Seth Wearing Babies

I desperately want to be accepted by my peers.  After all, this mothering thing is hard, and I am going to need them.  Then again, am I really even there if I just hide out at playgroups , nod and pass, not only as straight, but as June Cleaver?  And the truth is husband-bashing isn’t the kind of support that I need anyway.  What about adult stimulation?  What about moms who can talk politics, who are activists?  What about discussing how the hell we are going to give our kids the space to explore flexible gender identities and orientations toward love and sex while media and culture steer them onto narrow, limiting paths?  What about the massive, profound transition that is becoming a mother?  Let’s talk about the guilt, the ecstasy, the terror, trying to find balance, trying to hold on to ourselves!  Some moms I’ve met seem so burdened with the lion’s share of childcare that they’ve had to lose the rest of themselves to manage it.  Is this the culturally-accepted ideal of motherhood?  No selves allowed?

I’m still trying to work out why my husband and I never walked through that time warp back to the 1950s that all those couples who “swore it wouldn’t happen to them” walked through.  I ask myself if these women complaining about their male partners’ traditional responses to parenting were themselves willing to be flexible in their own gender roles.  As long as we have the attitude that we can do it better, men probably won’t step up, because what man enjoys feeling incompetent?

That mom who didn’t leave the children with her husband for three years obviously didn’t see him as a competent caretaker, but now seems bitter that he’s not one.  We have to believe men can care for children and manage homes, just as we believe we can run companies and nations, rather than expect them to “help” while we maintain control over the private domain.  How would we react to that kind of attitude toward our work in the public sphere?  Imagine men expecting to supervise and micromanage our works as CEOs?

So why are moms so hesitant to view their male partners as full, competent parents?  Is it just that hard to picture?  I don’t think so.  I think it’s because deep down there is a part of us that believes if we demand equal parenting, if we demand holding onto ourselves– as our husbands do when children come into the picture– then we are not good mothers.  I can understand this fear.  When I really sit and think about it, I have it, too.  When I work, when I take time to write, when I keep up with friends, go out with other adults, and spend time fantasizing about things I’m passionate about, there is always this little nagging feeling that a “good mom” would have let go of these things.

I’ve held onto my egalitarian marriage and my sense of self, but I haven’t managed to not beat myself up about it.  So my husband has all the parenting skills and responsibility I do, but I still look at him and he seems unburdened, free of the guilt and self-doubt that plagues me.  If he can be a full person and also believe he is a good parent, why can’t I be out and proud as an egalitarian mother?


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