Thursday, June 27, 2013

DOMA and Prop 8: Ambivalence at its Best

After months of hearings and deliberation, yesterday the Supreme Court overturned Proposition 8 and deemed DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) unconstitutional. Since the court's hearing, I've seen Facebook riddled with both jubilant rejoicing and apocalyptic innuendos. I've heard the terms "Prop 8" and "DOMA" mentioned with nostalgic reverence and vehement disdain. If you have been following my blog, it will come as no surprise to you that I was elated to hear about the Supreme Court's ruling. It was the conclusion I had been waiting for. But as with many things in my life, this happiness was not devoid of conflict and introspection.

For those who have heard the epitaphs but are unsure of the terms' political or social significance, let me break it down for you. I've had to do my own research to be sure that I know what I'm talking about before making bold statements on the subject...

Proposition 8 was a 2008 majority-supported ballot that amended state constitution, deeming that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California". The ballot won by a small margin in November 2008, and overturned the Supreme Court's May 2008 ruling that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry. While many celebrated Prop 8 as a victory, the amendment was viciously battled, resulting in civil and government lawsuits which conjectured the amendment unconstitutional under the US Constitution's 5th amendment. On June 26th 2013, California state government refused to defend Prop 8 in the Supreme Court hearings and the amendment was overturned.

DOMA was a bill signed in 1996 by Bill Clinton as a federal law allowing individual states the right to refuse recognition of same-sex marriages. The law outlined a federal definition of "spouse" as being derived from a heterosexual couple, thus denying same-sex couples' federal spousal benefits, such as Social Security, retirement, filing joint taxes, immigration or hospital visitation rights, regardless of their states' stance on same-sex marriage. In 2010, Edith Windsor filed a lawsuit against the United States District Court after her wife, Thea Spyer, passed away and left her entire estate to Windsor. The marriage between Windsor and Spyer was recognized by their home state of New York, but Windsor was denied a federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses and was made to pay $363,000 in estate taxes because the tax exemption did not apply to same-sex marriages. On June 26th 2013 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Windsor, finding DOMA unconstitutional "as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment." This does not automatically make same-sex marriages legal throughout the United States, but it forces the federal government to issue spousal benefits to same-sex couples residing in states where gay marriage is legal.

Ever since I've "come out" as a Mormon liberal, other members of my faith have asked with earnest intentions how I reconcile my belief in modern-day prophetic revelation with my ardent belief in gay rights. It is no secret that in 2008, the presidency of the LDS church issued a statement that urged Californian Mormons to support Prop 8. The short but honest answer is this: I don't. I can't. These two beliefs- the beliefs who make me who I am- are incongruent. They are irreconcilable. If I have faith that the LDS prophet is the direct mouthpiece of God, then I must believe that God does not (nor will he ever) support Gay marriage. This is not to say that God/Mormons hate gay people, as many slanderous liberal advocates suggest, but it is to recognize that God has an eternal order, and part of this order is procreation and the union between man and woman. If I believe in everyone's equal right to agency and support civil rights to the core (as I do), then I automatically relinquish my right to say I wholly follow the Prophet. You see- I don't just advocate for gay rights as a political or social opinion. I can't accept that God would be so exclusive to deny anyone the right to love.

In late night, hours-long conversations with friends I have debated and wrestled with my paradoxical creedence. How could it be that I believe so ardently in two implacable ideas? Is it due to a lack of faith in my religion, or is my trial in life to continually grapple with these two irreconcilable ideologies?

A good friend once told me to remember the times where I've felt the spirit attest to the Gospel's truthfulness, and that should negate any existential questions I hold about the LDS church. The truth is that my faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is unwavering- Jesus never mentioned the subject of homosexuality. My problem is that I cannot accept the Prophet's stark stance on homosexuality, and so I am told that I do not believe in modern-day revelation. It seems a very "all-or-nothing" notion, and this brings more turmoil than you know.

Another friend told me that if I do everything I'm taught-pray earnestly, read scriptures with real intent, keep my temple covenants- then the truthfulness of the LDS religion and all its tenets (including modern-day revelation) will be apparent and my other temporal grapplings will become less important.

"She's right", I thought. "Maybe I'm not doing enough. Maybe if I pray harder, maybe if I sing louder and listen more intently in church I'll be able to reconcile these two sides of me that have created a schism in my mind and heart."

But I've done all those things, I DO all those things to the best of my mortal ability, but my belief in gay rights is not quelled. There seems to be no reconciliation, as much as I fight for it. There is an eternal order to things that I must choose to believe, or reject.

And so my optimistic, maybe idealist conclusion is this: I will continue to pray. I will continue to ask God for answers. I will continue to follow the Prophet. I have felt for myself the truthfulness of the LDS church, and though it would sometimes be easier to deny it, I believe. But I will also continue to believe in gay rights. I can't accept that two people loving each other is wrong. I just can't. I will allow myself this discretion and not be too hard on myself. There is no spiritual or rational way to defend or explain my disparaging beliefs and I just have to accept it. You may think that I'm choosing the best of both worlds, and you may be right. But I promise you that trying to balance these two conflicting worldviews is anything but "best". It's difficult, and taxing, and tumultuous. But what else can I do in my ambivalence?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Memoirs Part II (oops there's an F word in here)

I was seventeen when I was sent to live with my sister in Los Angeles. We pretended the move was in my best interest, but we all knew that my mother couldn't handle my in-your-face attitude of defiance and was worried about my future. She had handled my dad's death with stoicism and without a hint of self-pity. She came to our swim meets, packed our lunches and mowed the lawn without ever unraveling into a mournful mess. She took over my father's finances and started working as a nurse's aid for terminally ill people dying at home. Muffins and juice were still waiting on the kitchen table when we came home from school. The grief she could hide, but the sadness of watching her children turn from everything she had taught- faith and obedience- lay bare.

“I cried myself to sleep last night” was all she said when she found a six pack of beer hiding in my closet after the neighbors informed her of the house party I had hosted while my mother was visiting her sister in England.

“It's not a big deal, Mom. Don't be such a fascist. I'm sick of you trying to control everything I do. Just back off me. It's my life” I yelled like the a phonogram for one of my punk CDs, more to hide the way my heart was breaking for my mother than out of anger.

She looked at me with the same anguish I had seen when she gripped the metal railing of my father's bed before pulling a sheet over his face, telling us that he was now with his parents and no longer in pain. But that night she said nothing to me, and instead returned to the kitchen to finish making sticky chicken for dinner. I longed for her to berate me- to yell and be upset so I could feel justified in the rage I felt toward her. Her meekness and silence made me even more upset.

I was wearing an oversized white T-shirt and black leggings when I ran out of our house and into the snow-covered street. I thought about grabbing a jacket before leaving, but I wanted to be sure my mother would worry about me, and so I purposefully left the coat behind. I ran down the frozen suburban roads that had once been a happy safe haven, before the pain of losing my father had coursed through my veins and overflowed into these quiet and quaint streets. I ran down Fletcher road where I used to play street hockey with my brothers, remembering how we would dangerously wait until the last minute to yell “car!” before picking up the goal nets and skating to the side of the street to let traffic pass. I ran up Walpole street and thought about biking to get penny candy at the corner store with Marisa DiTrapani after searching our couches for pennies and dimes. I ran up Montrose drive and thought about how I used to take the shortcut through the woods to get to swim team practice with Rosanna Tomiuk in the summers, even though our parents told us not to. These were happy memories but they made me upset because they were reminders of a time before the hollowness of death and grief had bore its ruthless hole in my chest. I wished I had no memories of such happy times because I thought they would never return.

I inhaled anger with every breath as I ran, although I wasn't sure what to be angry about. I only knew that anger was a more survivable emotion than sorrow because it allowed blame rather than introspection. I thought about the war in Iraq. That made me mad. I thought about Capitalism. That made me mad. I thought about McDonalds cutting down the rainforest. That made me mad. I thought about my mother, and she made me mad for no real reason other than the fact that she made me think of my dad. I didn't want to think about him. And so I thought about bombs being dropped over Bagdhad until I reached a frozen payphone at our neighborhood liquor store.

I had left my house with no agenda or plan other than to make my mother upset, although I didn't know why. I picked up the cold, black phone and it stuck to my hand like a warm tongue sticking to an icy metal pole. I didn't care. I lifted my other hand and slowly dialed a collect call to my boyfriend who lived in Tennessee with an index finger too numb to shake.

My mother hated my boyfriend in Tennessee, and that's probably why I called him. He was a punk rocker, with PUNX tattooed to his knuckles and a full sleeve tattoo devoted entirely to me. I felt guilt for allowing him to design and undergo the intricate shrine on his left arm because I knew that I wouldn't love him forever, as he assumed would be the case. But it felt nice to be loved so purposefully, and so I had held his hand and smiled as he sat in the tattoo parlor chair, whispering “I love you” into his ear with forced sincerity.

“I hate my mum, Dan. Can you come get me?” I cried angrily into the payphone when he picked up, as though he lived down the street and not across the continent. Dan said he would leave that night. After we hung up I didn't know where to go and so I sat on the icy ground and thought about Baghdad.

A kind police officer found me huddled against the liquor store walls a few hours later, and beckoned for me to come over to his car.

“Were you looking for me?” I asked as I sat in the front passenger seat, submitted to the fact that I was going home after only having been a runaway for less than 6 hours, not even meriting a seat in the back of the cop car.

“I was on the lookout for a jacket-less teenage girl wandering the winter streets. Your mother is worried about you,” he said in a gentle tone.

I wished he was mean so I could yell “Fuck police brutality” and jump out of the car. But he was so kind, and my eyes welled with tears as I told him that I didn't really know why I ran away, I was just really upset about the war in Iraq.

“Well, maybe you should try again in the summer-or at least wear a jacket next time”, he replied with a wink and dropped me off in front of my blue and white house that looked so cold and uninviting under the blanket of ice and snow.

“Your mother loves you,” he said as I got out of the car, and I nodded because I knew it was true.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Everybody Hurts, Sometimes

My initial response to hardship is anger. This is a recent realization, although in retrospect I can see that anger has coursed through my veins for years, pulsing with purpose whenever life lets me down. It makes me a perplexing anomaly, since I generally think myself to be a positive, easy-going and happy person. But when life hands me lemons, my first response is not to make lemonade, but rather to load those lemons into a baseball pitching machine and catapult them straight back in life's face while yelling offensive expletives. My anger is a dormant beast awaken very seldom, but when it's lanced with disappointment the beast is ruthless and full of spite. In this regard, I have come to find it more difficult to identify and harness my reactionary anger because it is masked so purposefully by a blanket of happiness. While tragedy has left me raw and self-aware, I am slowly realizing that in some ways, I am moored in a port of adolescent bitterness.

I recently endured an early miscarriage. I was only 8 weeks pregnant-so early that I almost feel silly for having such an emotional attachment to the blueberry-sized sea monkey. I had always been somewhat apathetic towards women who experienced an early loss of pregnancy. After all, I thought, the fetus was still just an amassment of cells and not yet a decipherable human baby. What I didn't take into account was the excitement that inevitably follows a positive pregnancy test- wondering whether it will be a boy or a girl, thinking up possible names, giddily whispering the new secret to your family and closest friends, imagining its face and dreaming about holding its tiny, warm body in your arms. Those thoughts are what bind us to the tiny bean growing in our bellies, regardless of its negligible size or inhuman appearance. Those thoughts cannot be rationalized away with biological explanations of its unachievable future. And then in an instant, those thoughts are purged from your body and you're left with an empty feeling in your stomach where the excitement of new life once lived.

When I realized I was miscarrying, my immediate reaction was not sorrow, but anger. I berated myself, because surely there was something I could have done to avoid this. I was angry at my husband for not having to endure the physical cycle of wholeness and emptiness in his gut. I was angry at the tiny baby for not keeping its heart beating. But mostly, I was angry at God.

It wasn't a logical anger, because had I viewed things rationally I would have understood that 30% of pregnancies are miscarried and my situation was no different from the millions of other women who suffer early miscarriages. But somehow, I felt it was a personal vendetta against me. "Make me grow up watching my little brother suffer through leukemia, then let me watch my father die a slow death, then take away my new future child," I thought as I yelled into my pillow. I was angry at God for allowing bad things to happen, when all I should have been doing was asking him for comfort. But I didn't, and the pain and rage endured.

The sadness came later, as did the realization of my misplaced anger and the knowledge that I have a lot to work on.

In my sporadic moments of anger, I forget that everything good in my life has come from God. I turn my back on him in an instant and persecute him for not making my life perfect. I hate him for allowing me to endure pain. I forget that the greatest lessons I have learned in life- that my growing compassion for others and budding self-awareness- have all been the result of enduring trials. I refuse to see that God has a plan for me, and enduring pain and suffering is ultimately part of life's beauty.

I want my father to be alive. I want to erase the memories of watching my little brother suffer when he was so young. I wish I had never felt the hollow hopelessness of depression. I want the baby back in my body. But to be honest, I wouldn't retract any of the invaluable lessons I have learned from abiding through those difficult times. That is what I need to remind myself whenever I want to punch a wall and curse God for letting life run its course. That is what I must remember when I feel the angry beast stirring in my breast.

In the end, life's beauty is only felt when we know what it means to hurt. And I guess that will make my next baby all the more cherishable.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Just in case you're wondering why I haven't been blogging lately, here is the first few pages of the memoir I've been working on. It might sound redundant considering my prior blog posts, but hey, you have to start somewhere... And just to remind you (and myself): The First Draft is Always Crap. I'm thinking of getting it tattooed on my forearm.

* * * * * * *

I lived my life with the perpetually nagging feeling that I could not be normal. Not that normalcy was an impossibility for me (in fact, I always seemed to fit in quite well), but somewhere along the time line of my life I made a decision to consciously reject conventions on a daily basis with rigor and pride. If I trace my resolution in defiance, its onset would probably date back to 1999, when my first attempts at staving off the norm were made manifest by facial piercings and tattoos. Back then, the gauge of how well I was living against the grain was measured by the amount of punk rock patches and studs I could fit onto my hideous leather jacket, or the visible wear and tear on my over-sized skate shoes from doing ollies and three quarters of a kick-flip, long before Avril Lavigne made skateboarding cool. Yes, everyone, I was a punk rock rebel, and you better have damn well recognized it.

Although I would deny it at them time, my punk rock rebellion was a direct result of my father's passing. It was a slow and painful death, the kind where catchphrases like "at least you had time to say goodbye" and "he's not in pain anymore" are offered as consolation but provide no solace. I was thirteen when he was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer, before the childlike admiration one holds for their parents is shattered by adolescent dissension.

We were sitting around the kitchen table on the evening my parents broke the news. I was seated next to my older brother Dave, and across from him sat my little brother. My father was at the head of the table, flanked by my mother and eighteen year old sister. We were all seated in our quotidian six o'clock dinner spots and to a distant observer, this assembly would have appeared to be just another family meal. But being in the room, you would have been able to feel the heaviness that lingered in the air like the suffocating tangibility of Los Angeles smog, as though our family was trapped in a valley of toxic words that spewed out my mother's mouth like fumes from an exhaust pipe.

I studied the outdated maroon and turquoise wallpaper with which my father had covered the kitchen walls while the words "cancer" "terminal" and "chemotherapy" floated through the air, then landed on the floor with heavy lifelessness. I wanted to sweep up those words and throw them in the trash can under our kitchen sink, so we could all forget about them and continue joking about my father's horrible taste in interior decor. I remember thinking that for all of the enviable attributes my father possessed, style was not one of them.

The only time I looked into his eyes that night was by command, when he promised us that he would live to see each of our birthdays over the next year. We had celebrated my thirteenth birthday six days before this fateful family meeting, and I believed if I could avoid turning fourteen, my father might live forever.

When he slipped into a coma on the afternoon of my fourteenth birthday, I was overcome with an unshakable sense of culpability. By waking up on October 19th 1999, I had granted my father permission to die. I didn't want to open my gifts. I didn't want to read my birthday cards, especially the one that was signed "DAD" in an erratic and shaky script, which was so unlike what would have come from the hand of my strong, immovable father of last year. I wanted everyone to pretend it was a normal day, so that we could all go on believing that my father had years of life left and ignore his weakened and gray body.

He died three days later.

I was upset when the coroners left a rose on the bed after they loaded his body into the back of the ambulance. The symbol of life resting on my dead father's pillow seemed to mock the gray and sunken head that had rested on it moments earlier. It was impossible that such a strong, unshakable man could have deteriorated into the hollow corps that lay breathless under the beige fleece blanket in our front room before they put him in a bag and carted him away, as though his life had been readily disposable and traded in for a flower. I hated the rose, but I was glad his body was gone. The lifeless figure had only been an effigy-a tribute to what my father no longer was. He was the father you would be proud to go to the public pool with, not only because of his washboard abs and ripped biceps, but because you could point and say "that's my dad" when he did handstand inverted flips off the high diving board, or when the swim team coach called on him to fill in for the sixteen and older relay team.

And now we had this rose.

I became withdrawn and angry, although it was a silent anger directed mostly at God.

I had been raised Mormon, a religion that teaches children to pray for what they want with earnest faith. At the onset of my father's illness, I held a perfect faith that my prayers would heal him. I knelt by my bedside night after night, pleading with God to restore my father's strength so that he would no longer be a shrunken shell of the man I loved so intensely. Over the months, I saw my prayers and my father's condition adopt a hyperbolic relationship; the more I prayed, the worse he became. When we turned our living room into an at-home hospice for my dad who couldn't make it upstairs, my prayers became sporadic and uttered with less intent. When the cancer spread and rendered him paralyzed from the waist down, and we had to use a lift to get him from bed to wheelchair, I stopped praying. Three days after my father died and five days after my fourteenth birthday, I broke a cardinal religious rule and got drunk. After that, it seemed there was no turning back.

While some people turn to God in death's wake, I ran from Him in vehement spite. If God existed, I wanted no relationship with the entity that taught miracles and compassion but had no time for a young girl's earnest prayers. If He didn't exist- which at the time seemed a more viable explanation for my fruitless pleas- then there was no point in maintaining communication with a lie. And so I began my purposeful yet subconscious crusade to defy every law and guideline that had been established by society and religion.

Fortunately for my deliberate image of abnormality, being Mormon gave my rebelliousness some added credibility. The main form of rebellion that Mormons tend to celebrate is in their rejection of alcohol, tobacco, freak dancing and consequently, premarital sex. In that sense, Mormons are pretty bad ass in terms of their steadfastness against societal pressures. I hadn’t lived my teenage years living in that particular avenue of societal revolt, and in that sense I was a Mormon dissident, while paradoxically adhering to the norm of teenage rebellion. Mormons also tend to stray away from any outward appearance of rebellion (other than rebelling against sexiness through modesty). That means tattoos, body piercings and patched leather jackets are generally frowned upon. As a result, not only was I rejecting mainstream society by being a punk, I was simultaneously dissenting from my religious culture, making my insurgence the Inception-style ‘rebellion inside of a rebellion’.