Tuesday, April 22, 2008

(this continues the posting of chapters from The Brides of March, sorry for the ridiculous delay)

I Come From Interesting Stock

Multnomah County Council members Lisa Naito, Maria Rojo de Steffey, and Serena Cruz came by to congratulate several of the waiting couples on their way into the building. Press photographers were snapping images that would fuel the fire of dissent about the commissioners’ decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, eventually leading to an unsuccessful recall attempt for two of the county commissioners, and a public apology from County Chair Diane Linn, not for offering the licenses to same-sex couples, she doesn’t apologize for that, but for the way she went about it.

These four women who voted to legally recognize our relationships risked political suicide by agreeing that the Oregon State Constitution required equal privileges and immunities to all, and by listening to the legal opinion of County Attorney Agnes Sowle, who said that those privileges and immunities included marriage. Sowle also suggested that the Multnomah County Commission could be vulnerable to lawsuits if they didn’t allow same-sex marriage. The Commissioners, with the exception of Lonnie Roberts, who opposes same-sex marriage (but supports civil unions), and was left out of the loop (thus the apology by Diane Linn), voted to act immediately, to keep same-sex marriage from sinking under the mire of public debate, while the opposition mobilized, filing petition after petition to make darn sure same-sex marriage in Multnomah County never came to pass.

While I am sure in my mind that these four intelligent, politically savvy women were only interpreting the state constitution as accurately as they could, my heart prefers a more imaginative scenario: all four commissioners, two blondes and two brunettes with a heavy load of responsibility, were letting their hair down at a Hawthorne area brew pub after a tough day in politics, their high heels kicked off under their stools, their symbolic neckties loosened, surrounded by denizens of the district in organically grown recycled cotton, second hand black leather, and brand new Birkenstocks, when one of them took a long drink of microbrew, and said, “If I have to sit through one more all-day meeting, I am going to scream.” “Yeah, me too,” agreed the commissioner on the next stool. Beside her, the third commissioner muttered, “You know what, if I could do one thing before my term is over, it would be to legalize same-sex marriage.” The fourth commissioner slapped her hand on the bar and said, “Me, too. I never get to do enough to make people happy, I’m always putting out fires.” “You know, there is a legal precedent here,” added the first woman. “Yeah, we’d be heroines if we could make it happen,” the second woman said, “To some of the voters anyway.” “We’d never live it down,” number four suggested. “And we might never work in government again,” the third one added, “But we’d make a lot of families happy.” I imagine them all silent a moment, drinking in the consequences, then looking at each other and saying, “Let’s do it.”

Lisa finally arrived with Katie and Jacob, her long dark hair loose and wet from the shower. She was flustered and beaming, carrying folding chairs for which there was now no room, her eyes bright with disbelief and barely contained joy. Katie and Jacob joined the other children: Katie to link arms with Anna, Jacob to enter into a serious discussion of D & D with Duncan.

Soon, Tom Disrud, the Associate Minister of the First Unitarian Church, arrived in support of his many parishioners at the front of the line. He was greeted with cheers. Tom is a shy, brotherly man, and openly gay. His sermons meander over everyday issues, bringing meaning to mundane details; he seems human, not an authoritarian god-like person who will tell us what to believe, or how to be a good Unitarian, as if anyone could agree on that. When he speaks, you can imagine him puttering in his garden, wondering if his rhododendron is dying or dormant, pondering how to fertilize the grass without harming the environment, or whether he should keep his lawn Portland-style and let it die in the summer and rise again in the fall, surely the most Judeo-Christian of lawn managements.

Tom joined us for the duration, ducking into the building to check out whether he could marry us there and then, at the County Building, when we got our licenses. He came back to let us know he was asked to refrain from marrying couples inside the building, in consideration of the crush, but he was willing to make the sidewalk a sacred space if that was what we desired.

I tried again to reach my mother on the phone. I’d tried twice before with no answer, worrying since she is generally up by five. Then, she answered with a tentative, “Hello?”
“Hi, it’s me. We’re in line at the County Building, and we’re getting a marriage license.”
“What!?” she screamed.
“I know, I know. Turn on the news! We don’t know if we’re getting married today because there may be a waiting period; if there is, we’re getting married Saturday, if not, today.” She squealed so loudly that Terri could hear her a few feet away.
“Do you want to be there if we get married today?”
She yelled, “Do I want to be there? Of course I want to be there! I’ve waited my whole life for this,” adding, “And I’m going to throw a reception and by golly, the relatives are all going to come!”

I was unbelievably happy, this reaction was better than I could have hoped for. She was happy for me. She got it. She wanted to be there. I told her I’d let her know when I knew what was going to happen. We hung up and I was smiling, Chris and Terri hugged me, happy that this went so very well.

My family of origin has offered challenges over the years, and to be fair, I have offered them in return. My mother and I have the usual mother/daughter conflict, but we also have multigenerational junk between us. I come from interesting stock. I am one of two sisters, born of the eldest of three sisters, born of the eldest of three sisters, born of an only daughter. Luckily, I am a younger daughter, so I was able to have two sons without messing up the whole “girls only” tradition that runs along the elder daughter line, though my sister has so far failed to fulfill her quota.

The women in our family also tend to graduate from high school early (and have been college educated for generations), heading off to college at seventeen. I got my braces off the day before leaving for college, and turned seventeen only days before, which, in retrospect, didn’t help my transition to higher education, though it did attract large numbers of leftist young men who wanted to sleep with girls the same age as their younger sisters.

Our women have also tended to choose difficult men. My father was a moody, alcoholic, folk musician/early computer geek who drank himself to death; my mother’s father, a successful writer, loved my grandmother passionately, yet they engaged in legendary, alcohol-fueled fights during cocktail parties that had the guests running for the door; my great grandfather stuck his head in the gas oven after the stock market crashed in 1929, and my great, great grandfather ran off with his secretary, leaving his wife (known in the family as The Victorian Beauty) in the lurch and on the hands of her grown daughter, the widow of the man who stuck his head in the gas oven. As if she didn’t have enough problems.

One might think all this had something to do with my lack of interest in mating for life with a man, but really, I was born this way. From an early age, it was plain to me that women were prettier than men, we spoke the same language (that whole Mars/Venus thing never worked for me), and if I couldn’t grow up and marry my zaftig, red-headed school crush, Tina (who I followed around like a faithful dog during my years at Maple Elementary in Campbell River), I wouldn’t marry at all.

Not that I didn’t give boys a try. I had a busy three years of heterosexual activity from sixteen to nineteen, including nearly year-long relationships with: 1. an asthmatic, drug-addled electric guitarist with a great profile who taught me Human Sexuality 400 in his basement bedroom, loved me so much that he threatened to kill me with a straight razor, and while able to spout intelligent, feminist analysis one moment, was a raving anger management problem the next. It was while the straight razor was held against my throat, and he started muttering about his grandfather’s gun, that I thought, “I could die here,” and decided to do a geographic to college, instead of enrolling locally. 2. A nice guy who happened to be the Resident Advisor at my freshman dorm. He was a handsome, wholesome, strapping specimen who sat down next to me on the dorm steps a couple days after classes began, to ask how I was adjusting to campus life, and never knew what hit him. I suspect that I scared him to death in my red polyvinyl cowboy boots, a seventeen year-old nymphet with a graduate degree in sex who was willing to home tutor, and having found someone decent (yet warped, I discovered, in a good way), wanted nothing but him, him, him… except, perhaps, that lovely young lady in drama class? 3. A self-described “thief” from Buffalo with a crooked moral compass. He was cute, smooth, and probably about as faithful as your average Hollywood husband, though I was every bit as bad. I broke up with him by telling him I was involved with a girl he’d dated, a blonde beauty I met when I was sixteen and she, fourteen. She’d skipped down the smoking area at Lincoln High School in Seattle, her long, golden hair, sparkling blue eyes, and rosy cheeks a vision, and I’d turned to the girl next to me and said, “Who is that?”

The girl looked at me like I was nuts, “She’s your boyfriend’s little sister!”

But it wasn’t the golden girl who actually wrenched the door of my closet wide; it was athletic, suave, gender-bending Jennifer from my Women in Literature class who managed that, though she might have mentioned she had a live-in lover before she stole my heart.

Ironically, she went on to date the golden girl…

I gave dating boys the old college try, mostly for my mother. She wanted me to be heterosexual in a big way, having sat me down when I was fifteen and informed me that sex was the center of the universe (a confusing message), and I gave it my dysfunctional best. When I came out to her twenty-one years ago, eager to tell her about the flawless Jen-Jen, she insisted that she had “two straight daughters,” and she’d have “two straight son-in-laws.”

But, now she was so happy I was marrying a nice girl, instead. And she wanted to be there.

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