While I continue to work on my treatise on gay marriage (and why it’s really all about gender, and not gayness or marriage), I thought I would post this poem I wrote for my partnership ceremony in honor of the marriage equality battle being waged this week. It, as well as most of our ceremony, was meant to highlight our desire to create a conscious, feminist, non-hetero-normative union, rather than a marriage in the traditional sense.
Even back then, before we really knew just how queer our union really was, I think we felt like we were getting away with something, even above and beyond our extreme unease at getting married when so many others couldn’t. Thinking now about bisexuals getting just highlights the absurdity of making marriage dependent on gender. Anyway… more on that soon.
“Love is like plunging into the darkness toward a place that may exist.” – Marge Piercy
It took me a long time to let myself love, especially when there were penises involved. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of men now, but the first one I knew made a pretty bad impression. As a smart, cautious girl, the most prudent way for me to avoid re-creating my dysfunctional relationship with my father was to avoid men until I had had enough therapy to be able to trust myself around them. Of course that didn’t stop me from re-creating my dysfunctional relationship with my mom.
That’s right, during that time I was avoiding men, I dated plenty of women. I didn’t call it that at the time because we dated in all respects but one… there was never any sex. That would be too dangerous. One can never be entirely certain a woman is not one’s dad wrapped up in the body of a red-head, tomboy.
None-the-less, these sometimes enthralling, sometimes volatile, and always heartbreakingly ambiguous relationships taught me how to love, and how not to love. I even tried one with a man, eventually. Still gut-wrenchingly ambiguous, of course. Finally, in my early twenties, I had to admit that I had a problem. While these relationships were “safe” in some ways, they were mind-fucking me, badly. Trying to shield myself from intimacy for fear of getting hurt was getting me pretty badly hurt.
So I swore them off! If I was ever going to be really ready for love, I was going to have to go all in – “plunge into the darkness” without a parachute. But instead, I hid out. I avoided everyone. When I was 24, my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. Just before she died, my dad and I stopped speaking. I assure you, he deserved it.
After I lost my mom, I felt raw, exposed, and yet opened up from the pain. I took a lot of time. I had the twenties I’d missed out on while I’d been researching cancer treatments and battling with neuro-oncologists and brain surgeons. I traveled around Southern Africa, to Costa Rica, and backpacked for 8 days in a remote part of Wyoming. I waited tables… very badly. I applied to graduate school. I went on real dates with boys who were auditioning to have to acknowledge we were more than just friends.
Almost a year to the day after my mom died, I met Seth. After all the drama and soul-searching, and years of tearful nights with female friends wondering if there was something wrong with me that would never be fixed, it was… easy. I had these surreal moments where I’d look at Seth and think can this really be happening, and how long until I lose him too? A few months before our wedding my Gram died. We had been planning for her to walk us both down the aisle. We were devastated.
Around that same time, my father showed up on my doorstep. It had been three years. He cried until he was almost sick. He didn’t deserve my forgiveness, but I knew withholding it would hurt me more than him. My therapist always said, “We don’t do well without our tribe.” Why did my tribe have to be so fucked up?
Seth and I’s partnership ceremony was the most authentic, radical thing I’d ever done, and the people in my life accepted it joyfully. It was so disorienting, I literally lost my balance. I started having these inexplicable and quite horrible dizzy spells. It was like my world was spinning on a different axis that my body wasn’t used to yet. Still, I felt like I was building something, finally, instead of sifting through ruins. I even invited my dad, and he was strangely behaved.
Getting married for me was like stepping into a strangers life. It was the first time I felt like I wasn’t fighting like hell just to continue to exist. Was this what it was like for “those people” I saw walking around in the world? It finally occurred to me… I did have a parachute. I was my parachute. I’d gotten me here. I’d been the one who padded my fall, got me back up, and plunged again into the darkness.
When Seth and I started talking about children, the idea that I could actually add people and not just have them be slowly stripped out off my life was intoxicating. I couldn’t change the past, but I could create a better future. Then we discovered Seth had a fertility problem. Then we discovered I had worse one. We were told we would never conceive. My husband once read me a quote about your family or origin being your roots and your children being your branches. I already felt like my roots had been cut off, and now I felt like I’d lost my branches. The babies that would move like my mother or laugh like my Gram would never exist.
This is my life, I thought. This is the life that happens to me. Not the strange, surreal fairy-tale life where I meet a soul-mate, form an egalitarian partnership, and finally feel like I can be who I truly am in the world. That was indeed some kind of fantasy. Reality was back, and it was harsh. My eggs were more than ten years older than I was. It felt fitting. I felt awfully old. We grieved.
Then things started happening so fast I could barely catch my breath. Just a few short months later I found myself wandering around Soho, confused and delirious, my hippie gynecologist’s words echoing in my ears – “You have a line.” I must have sat there looking stupefied for a good half hour, while the doctor and phlebotomist tried to impress upon me that I was pregnant. A few weeks later, we saw two yoke sacs on an ultrasound. Twins. ”Whoo-hoo,” I heard myself cry. Fear be damned, this was probably my only shot, and I was more than okay with a two-for-one deal. Who knew how long this stretch of miracle would last!
This isn’t a post about loss. It’s a post about how loss can make it hard when you don’t lose. For eight weeks I held my breath every hour of every day. I wasn’t just scared to miscarry. I believed I would. That’s what I’d been told. When the doctor at the fertility clinic found out I was pregnant she looked at me suspiciously, like I was some kind of witch or something. When I hit that Sunday – 12 weeks – I had that dizzy feeling again. Can this be real, I wondered? I was already showing.
There I was in that other woman’s life again. Like all those pregnant women who’d made me cry inside just a few short months before. I began to open my heart to my babies. I could feel them kicking, hiccuping, and squirming. At 16 weeks I was told I had a boy, but the other little stinker was hiding. That was a long week. Then I was told I had a girl. I wept for joy. I think I knew that was the closest I’d come to getting my mom back. I saw every little body part at my twenty week ultrasound times two.
Then one day we went to brunch with some friends. In the bathroom I saw two tiny spots of blood. Every little twinge I’d felt for twenty weeks had me panicked, but this was different. This was the real deal. Then the waiting game started again. Counting down the hours, until they became days, until they became weeks. 21 weeks – I may not get to keep them. 24 weeks – still hardly any chance I’ll get to keep them. I remember my OBGYN giving me a stern talking to – warning me that my cervical shortening was unpredictable, and there was no guarantee I’d make it two more weeks. 28 weeks – hallelujah, I will probably get to keep them!!
My babies were born healthy and strong, almost 5 pounds each and breathing on their own, at 33.5 weeks. We were told numerous times they were the healthiest ones in the NICU, but the reminders not to get too hopeful were everywhere. I’ll never forget one night during their 19-day stay. We were leaving very late with some family. The babes were already in the step-down unit, and as we walked back through the main NICU, we could tell something was very wrong. A huge crowd of doctors and medical personnel were huddled around a tiny little girl. You could tell by the looks on their faces the situation was grave. The next day, the little girl was gone.
Now take these babies home and love them. Love them like none of this ever happened, like you weren’t told you’d never have them, like you didn’t almost lose them, like your mom didn’t call you that day from the hospital and ask you if the plumber came to the house before nonchalantly adding, “They found a brain tumor.” Take these babies home and love them like you have no idea that every moment of life is spent walking on the edge of death- like every path toward the light hasn’t led back into the darkness.
This post was inspired by a post called It Took Me 18 Months to Fall in Love with My Daughter. Sure, I loved my babies from the moment they were born. I loved them even before they were conceived. Why else would I have grieved so hard when I’d been told they were never going to come.? I love them so much it terrifies and sometimes paralyzes me. On the other hand, a part of me feels like I’m letting myself love them little by little everyday as I slowly let go of my fear.
The past two years have been like a roller coaster ride back through all the things that terrify me. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been holding my breath since they told me about that “line.” After 9 months, I finally felt like I was getting out of survival mode. I was doing it. I was keeping them alive, and myself sane. My worst fears hadn’t come to pass. I even found myself having fun now and then. Seth and I marveled at the two stunningly perfect lives we created. ”Our roots are a bit gnarly,” we agreed,” but our branches are spectacular.” Then it happened… another “line.”
This time I was equally thrown but for totally different reasons. This one wasn’t planned, and I knew on some level I’d been holding back connecting emotionally with my babies. I was already overwhelmed by trying to love more than I ever had despite all that loss-baggage. But I’m already fucking up with the ones I’ve got, I thought to myself. Miscarrying was a major set back. It didn’t just set me back to when my babies were born, or even when I’d been terrified of losing them. It set me all the way back. Back to when I was terrified to jump at all.
Suddenly, I felt completely unsafe. Unsafe in my marriage. Unsafe with my babies. Maybe this was all a big mistake, and the universe knew I wasn’t supposed to have them, either? I think on some level I believed I’d killed my baby, and I was poison. Perhaps I thought on some level that the clarity of knowing for sure that I was dangerous and deadly would feel better than accepting the randomness of when I’d lost and when I hadn’t and when I’d been told I would but didn’t.
I wanted safety, even if it hurt. Even if I risked destroying everything .I spent the months after my miscarriage working together with my husband to drive our relationship to the brink, feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped with my friends, and becoming way too dependent on a friendship that I eventually also ended up nearly destroying.
In the midst of all this, I was still trying to figure out how to be queer. I guess I always thought by time I had kids I would have found myself. I didn’t realize finding oneself happens again and again. If we’re lucky.
Turns out I didn’t lose my parachute last winter at all, I was just falling faster and harder than I had in a long, long time. The truth is it was there all along, because as close as I came to the edge, when it came down to it, I did the work I needed to do, I stuck with therapy, I held my marriage together, I was there for my kids, I realized just in time that my focus wasn’t where it needed to be, that I was acting out of terror and had lost clarity, and I started slowly, slowly pulling it together. This blog was born a year ago today, during a time of darkness and loss, only a couple short weeks after my miscarriage. I did give birth to something after all, this blog turns out to be Baby C.
In my first post on this blog, I talked about feeling like a snow-globe with all the parts of me shaken up, not knowing where they would land. Motherhood will do that. Over the past year, Undercover in the Suburbs has helped me reclaim and re-order those parts. The truth is when we become uprooted (as we inevitably do when we become parents), when we lose ourselves for any reason, as I did last winter, when we find ourselves again, we are never quite the same. I’ve lost a lot in my life, and sometimes it’s felt like losing myself.
Still, I feel the most fully me I’ve ever been right at this moment. Perhaps the truth is that every path into the darkness eventually leads back to the light. Undercover has helped me find that light. It’s been a chance to come back home to writing, to feminism, and come home for the first time to being queer. It’s helped me let go of damaging cultural notions of motherhood and define the role for myself. It’s a space where all the parts of me can co-exist, peacefully for the most part. It’s a space where I can connect with others who are travelling similar paths, and be comforted, and learn from those who’ve made different choices. It’s a space where I can make myself more whole, recover from my losses, and thus make more room for love. I’m still working at it. That’s what I’ve learned. I will always be working at it. For me, love may always feel like plunging into the darkness, but I’ve got this parachute. Me. I’m the parachute. Thank you for reading.
So what will the next year bring? Integration. My next step must be bringing my “real” life more in line with Lyla Cicero’s online existence. Stay tuned this year as I work toward that integration. Stay tuned for posts on coming farther out, honoring my inner teenage lesbian, battling mono-sexism in myself and the outside world, egalitarian/feminist/non-heteronormative parenting on a collision course with SCHOOL, and thus, the large society, and many other subjects.
My main goal for the blog this year is to get more of you involved. Despite the catharsis of writing these posts, the greatest joy and fulfillment I get is from reading your comments, getting your emails, and dialogue-ing with you. I hope to get more folks reading, and more of you commenting and making your voices heard. Undercover isn’t just for me. It’s for anyone searching for themselves and working to create a more LGBTQQIAPK-friendly, sex-positive, identity-fluid, gender-egalitarian world.
“Opened the door, knew what was me, finally realized, parachute over me.” – Guster
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.
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