Imagination

My greeting to the guests at our rehearsal dinner.
I delayed publication until after the ceremony.


I never imagined being married.

Of course, lesbians couldn’t marry. But it was more than that.

It was more than that I didn’t expect to be married. It was more than that I didn’t expect to have a wedding, to be a bride.

I never even imagined it. Never even imagined being married. Never even imagined being a bride.


My fiancée says that, when she was a girl, she wanted what every little ranch girl wants: To get married, have children, raise children, get children married, spoil grandchildren.


I never had that aspiration.

It wasn’t because I am a lesbian. It wasn’t because lesbians couldn’t marry.

Even as a very young girl, before I knew that I was a lesbian, I didn’t dream, or daydream, or even imagine being married. Didn’t dream, or daydream or imagine being a bride.

When I played with Barbie dolls – Yes, I played with Barbie dolls – my Barbie wasn’t a bride. Barbie wasn’t married to Ken.

It wasn’t latent lesbianism. It wasn’t a latent feminist fantasy of an independent woman. It was simply want of imagination.

I realized I was a lesbian when I was in high school. I did things that I’m not proud of. Things that disgust me. Things that you may have heard rumored. Things that made marriage even more unimaginable.


I was baptized, raised and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church. I broke Mother’s heart when I left the Church. I didn’t leave because I was a lesbian. Even after I left the Church, I believed that being a lesbian was a sin.

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church says,

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

I had inhuman self-mastery. It made me the best engineer you’ve ever seen.

But I was wasting my life. I was wasting my capacity to love and be loved.


I could have married a man. Had children. Gradually and resolutely approached Christian perfection.

But it would have been morally appalling.

I could have tolerated knowing I would never be emotionally or romantically or physically fulfilled. I have fortitude enough to sublimate myself for the sake of my soul and for the sake of children to love.

But for him, for a husband? It would have been an unpardonable sin against him. It would have been morally abominable to do that to someone, someone who loved me.

Can you imagine loving someone – dedicating your life to someone – who cannot love you as you love? Who cannot love you as you deserve to be loved?

Can you imagine loving someone incapable of love and desire and passion for you? Someone you want to fulfill?

One of the things that I have learned so well from my fiancée is that it is more blessed to give – emotionally, romantically, physically – than to receive. The most amazing thing about love is not one’s own rapture, but the rapture of another.

Even if I had been the greatest actress, even if I could deceive a man for his entire life, even if he never had an inkling of it, the deception would have been morally repulsive. What would it have made me? A moral monster.

How could I withhold that from someone – deceive someone – who loved me enough to dedicate his life to me? How long before my own moral depravity would overcome me, either in guilt or shame or in a perverted moral center?


I never imagined being married. I never imagined being a bride. But my poverty of imagination was greater than that. I never imagined loving someone. I never imagined being loved.

I don’t mean that I thought that I was unlovable. I don’t mean that I thought I was incapable of love. I wasn’t depressed or even unhappy. I didn’t pity myself. I didn’t consider myself pitiable. My life was fulfilling. But love was just something outside of my imagination. My impoverished imagination.


I was extraordinarily fortunate to have found a compassionate and inquisitive minister. I came into his office and declared, without preface, “I am a lesbian.”

He laughed at my forwardness, the baldness of my declaration. He asked me what I wanted to do about it. What I wanted him to do about it. Being a Protestant, he couldn’t offer me absolution. But, as a Protestant, he would help me look into scripture – and solely to scripture, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Although he is not a Calvinist, he seemed guided by the Westminster Confession:

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word.


I won’t detail our investigation, our hermeneutic and theological wrestling. I will only say this: In the end, I must always come to the words of our Savior:

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

This is how Christ himself would have us interpret God’s law. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

My love of this woman, and of my God, is wholly in the letter and spirit of those two commandments.


Two years ago, after showing me to a calm in my soul, the minister asked me to meet with a woman. He said she was a lesbian comfortable in her conservative Christian faith.

We met for dinner. I immediately knew that she was the most extraordinary person I had ever met. Brilliant beyond imagining, cultured, cosmopolitan, beautiful, charming, successful – yet the friendliest, happiest, least conceited person I had ever met. She immediately put me at ease, treated me as an equal, was interested in me.

It was the most wonderful dinner of my life. It was the most wonderful two hours of conversation of my life.

As we left, standing on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, she touched my cheek. I nearly fainted. My heart stopped. Literally stopped.

I thought, “I am going to die, right here.”

Then, “Thank you, God, for letting me die happy.”


I didn’t die, of course. But, for the first time, I imagined love.

I wasn’t in love, not yet. I didn’t know enough about love to know if I was in love, and I knew it. I knew that I didn’t know enough about her – or, frankly, about myself – to be in love.

But in that instant, I could imagine it. It – the imagining – was the most extraordinary thing in the world. Not only that I could love, but that I could be loved. Be loved not as a friend or a sister or a daughter, but as God’s gift for another. To love someone not as a friend or a sibling or a parent, but as God’s gift to me.


You know the rest. We fell in love. I moved to New York. She nearly died. We proposed and accepted marriage. We gave each other these rings. We bought dresses and planned this wedding.


But you don’t know all the rest.

I still could not imagine being a bride. The ceremony tomorrow seemed only that: a celebration of the life to come, a life together.


My fiancée decided in her childhood imaginings that she wanted to be married under the order for service from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. She told me this when we became engaged. I read the order for service and agreed. We’re neither of us Episcopal, but we are traditionalists. Beyond that, the order for service seemed to both of us to say whatever we might write in personal vows, and say it more eloquently – certainly more eloquently than I could.


Last Sunday, after church, we sat with the minister who introduced us and will officiate tomorrow. We read the order for service together. And then, with the same power as the moment of imagining when she touched my cheek, I imagined being her bride. Being her wife. Her being my bride. Her being my wife.


I’m not an imaginative woman. I’m not given much to self-reflection and certainly not to self-absorption. I’m not easily distracted, especially by abstract ideas or flights of fancy.

So I’ve seemed odd this week. The better you know me, the odder I have probably seemed.

Someone who didn’t know me well might write it off as pre-wedding jitters or pre-wedding excitement. Someone who didn’t know my mother, or my fiancée’s mother, or our sisters, and the thoroughness and excellence of their preparation might write it off as distraction by the thousand details of a wedding.


But it’s this: I am reveling in the a dream. A dream of a wedding. A dream of being married. Imagining what it will be like, tomorrow, to stand in God’s presence and declare, reverently and deliberately, that I will have this woman to be my wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage, to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as we both shall live.

And for her, tomorrow, to stand in God’s presence and declare, reverently and deliberately, that she will have this woman to be her wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage, to love me, comfort me, honor and keep me, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to me as long as we both shall live.

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Pride: A paradox

Pride, to me, is pleasure in one’s achievements, or pleasure in the achievement of another. Pride in a genetic gift, or from anything else one has no control over? That, to me, would be conceit or vanity.

I’m very intelligent. I’m not proud of that, nor am I ashamed of it. My intelligence was a gift from my parents and from God. I am proud of what I have done with my intelligence. I would be ashamed if I did not use it to the fullest.

My fiancée’s intelligence is formidable. I’m not proud – or ashamed – of her for it. I am proud of her formidable accomplishments with her intelligence.

Similarly, I’m not proud (or ashamed) of my (or my fiancée’s) body, although I do take some pride in keeping myself in shape. And I certainly take pleasure in my fiancée’s body (and in her pleasure in my body).


When I was young, I fought being a lesbian. When I became an adult, I buried it. But I have never been ashamed of being a lesbian. I just am a lesbian.

Now, I’m glad I’m a lesbian. If I had the choice, I would choose to be a lesbian.

I’m not proud that I’m a lesbian. I didn’t do anything to make myself a lesbian. I just am a lesbian.


My lesbianism hasn’t been heroic.

I grew up in the most conservative part of one of the most conservative states. A state constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage passed by a two-to-one majority – three-to-one in my county. When I lived there, I was deeply in the closet.

But I was never afraid, and I’m not afraid now that I am out of the closet. I’m not even afraid to walk down the main street of the tiny, rural town where I grew up, holding my fiancée’s hand.


Lesbianism has been heroic for many.

I am proud of the lesbians who have gone before me, whose lesbianism was heroic.


My ability to just be a lesbian – without shame or fear – owes everything to those who can justly take pride in being lesbians. To be slightly paradoxical about it, I am proud of them – and they should take pride in themselves – for my lack of pride.

 

Coming to grips with conception

Things one knows in the head sometimes become things one understands in the heart.


  • Separating conception from love.

Our child will be my child, a child of our love, a child I will love unconditionally. The person we are selecting will not love either of us or our child.

I understood that intellectually. But it wasn’t until we were flipping through the books – coolly selecting or rejecting the biological parent of our child based on a check-mark or a word or two on a form – that it became more than an intellectual understanding.


  • Separating conception from sex.

We can’t conceive a child in an act of love.

I understood that intellectually. But now I know in my heart that the best we can hope for is a kiss while jamming her with a turkey baster.

However, I intend to follow it up with an act of love.


We have real empathy for straight couples who face this, too.

Donor search

Flipping through the donor book from the fertility clinic:

Me: I’d love to come across a physicist or mathematician.

My Love: Supply and demand, sweetheart. If they were in here, their DNA would get taken right away.

Me: You’d think the geeks that can’t get a date would be lining up for this. The demand for their DNA would be so gratifying.

My Love: Easy there, my sweet: I was a geek who couldn’t get a date.


A little later:

Me: I worry that we’re engaged in a eugenics experiment. Gorgeous genius DNA looking for hunky genius DNA?

My Love: Think about it, sweetheart. What do you think straight people have been doing since forever? A straight woman wants to marry somebody who’s as smart, as ambitious, as good looking as she is. If we were straight, we’d each be married to some hunky genius. How’s this any different?


A little later:

Me: At this point, I’d settle for a doctor or a lawyer.

My Love: Is this a Jewish mother joke?


A little later. She tosses me a file:

My Love: How about an investment banker?

Me: Eww. Wolf of Wall Street?

My Love: My sweet, those guys were traders. Traders are animals. Investment bankers are very smart, very hard working and very ethical. At least the ones I work with.


A little later:

My Love: We are using the wrong sampling technique. This population is guys who advertise that they will jerk off in a jar to spread around their DNA. That’s fine, but the population we want to select from is geniuses.

Me: Right. And where do we find geniuses? In grad school.

My Love: Exactly. Columbia, NYU, right here on this very island.

Me: Princeton and Yale an hour away. Harvard and MIT up in Cambridge. Heck, my grad school. Get some of that good mountain DNA. So what do we do? Sneak into the science center and put up flyers on the Math and Physics boards?

My Love: With the little tabs at the bottom with our phone number?

Me: Run an ad in the Math and Physics journals?

My Love: “Wanted: High quality sperm for baby-fever lesbians. No further obligation. All expenses paid! Lube and jar included!”

Biggest Lesbian?

middleagebutch, who blogs The Flannel Files has named me the Biggest Lesbian, Ever. My qualification? I got engaged. And got a Drive By Truckers trucker’s cap.

Aww, thanks, MAB.

I feel … validated. I feel … like I belong. I feel … like a real lesbian!

I spent my whole life admiring women. I knew what I was, but I buried it. I didn’t act on it. With the help of a wonderful minister, I accepted myself in my early 30s. Then, with his help, I met and fell in love with the most extraordinary woman in the world.

I don’t have a butch bone in my body. I wear Pendleton plaids and jeans out West, but so do the straight girls. The butchest things I own are hard hats, which, I admit, are pretty butch.

I can fix a power plant, but I can’t change a light bulb. I can design an efficient internal combustion engine, but I can’t change a sparkplug.

My Love is a ranch girl. She can rewire a house or rebuild an engine, but she’s even more feminine than I am.

I wear a skirt. I wear (a little) makeup. I don’t wear heels.

So MAB says the award was for biggest lesbian, ever. Not biggest butch, ever. And getting engaged to the woman of my (and everyone else’s) dreams is pretty lez.

It validates that we lesbians are a diverse bunch. We don’t all fall into stereotypes.

So, thanks, middleagebutch! The prize was more than the prize!

 

PS: The prize was the ebook of middleagebutch’s memoir: Rae Theodore, Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender. Everybody: go out and buy it! Even though neither my Love nor I is butch, and we’re both attracted to feminine women, it has had a lot to say to me. And it’s funny.

She has to be the best

Another thing about my fiancée: She has to be the best at everything she puts her mind to.

I had no conception of what it is like to be around someone like that. (Although she says I’m like that, too.)

It is frightening.


Her drive to be the best isn’t a competition with anyone but herself. She doesn’t want to beat anyone. She just wants to be the best. It’s natural. She doesn’t even know that’s the way she is. If she ever sees this, she’ll deny it.

When I was growing up, one of my heroes was Eugenio Monti. Monti was one of the greatest bobsledders, ever. But that’s not why he was – and is – my hero.

At the 1964 Winter Olympics,

Realizing that British bobsledders Tony Nash and Robin Dixon had broken a bolt on their sled, Monti lent them the bolt off his sled. The Britons won the gold medal in the 2-man bobsled, while Monti and his teammate took the bronze medal. Answering critics from the home press, Monti told them “Nash didn’t win because I gave him the bolt. He won because he had the fastest run.” Monti also showed his act of selfless generosity in the four-man competition. There, the Canadian team of Vic Emery had damaged their sled’s axle and would have been disqualified had not Monti and his mechanics come to the rescue. The sled was repaired and the Canadian team went on to win the gold medal, while Monti’s team took bronze.
Wikipedia, Eugenio Monti

That’s my fiancée. Finishing first isn’t important. Being the best is important. One is only the best if one is better than everyone else at their best.

It’s not just that she couldn’t live with herself if she hindered a competitor. She could not even conceive of doing anything that would hinder a competitor. She couldn’t even conceive of not helping a competitor be her best. She doesn’t even see it as competition.


Her high school friends say she didn’t compete with them – and they didn’t try to compete with her. Everyone (except, apparently, my fiancée) knew that she was the smartest person ever to come out of the valley. She helped everyone else at every opportunity, with Literature, Writing, Mathematics, Science. She helped them with their college application essays, giving them ideas and commenting on their drafts.

My Love’s Mother (to me): You know she got perfect scores on the college boards.

My Love: I did not!

My Love’s Mother: OK. I’m exaggerating. She got a 780 [out of a possible 800] on the Physics test. But that was before she took Physics. And she got 800s on everything else.

My Love: I only got a 790 on the Math SAT! I didn’t think I’d get into [her college of choice] without a perfect score.

She went East to one of the best colleges in the world. She initially felt inferior: She was from a broken-down little rural high school, surrounded by girls who had graduated at the top of elite prep and public schools. Her school didn’t have AP courses or other courses for advanced students; too few students and too few teachers. (My school didn’t have those courses, either.) The other girls had every advantage. They had seen the world; lived in the great cities, visited the great museums, seen the great plays, heard the great opera.

My fiancée’s sister says those girls changed my fiancée. She went to college a laid-back hick. She came back at Christmas break ferocious to prove to the elite coastal girls that she was as well educated, as cultured, as they were. One of her college friends told me that by the end of her first year, my fiancée was helping every girl in the dorm with at least one subject.

Looking for a challenge, she elected Mathematics. Her high school didn’t teach Calculus. (Neither did mine.) She entered college a year behind in the Calculus/Real Analysis sequence. However, as a curious teenager, she had taught herself a good deal of rigorous, abstract Mathematics: Number Theory, Non-Euclidian Geometry, Logic and Set Theory, Group and Field Theory. She had taught herself to program (in C). That prepared her better for pure Mathematics than a high school Calculus course would have.

In the middle of her second year, one of her Math professors told her that she had promise. She shouldn’t bother with undergraduate courses. She should transfer to a school where she could take graduate courses. She did, and took four graduate Math courses per term. She graduated summa cum laude and entered one of the top graduate Math programs in the world.

She proved to everyone’s satisfaction that she was one of the best of the best, particularly in the most abstract disciplines. But she realized she didn’t have the temperament to be an academic. She wanted the rough-and-tumble of the commercial world.

She needed experience and capital to do what she wanted to do: apply quantitative tools to analyze and predict the outcome of business decisions. She worked for a securities firm for a few years, then started her firm.


She doesn’t want to compete with anyone. Being the best isn’t about beating someone else.

She doesn’t consciously try to be the best. It’s instinct. It’s just how she is.

And nobody around her – including those she’s competing against – thinks she is competing with them.


I didn’t know any of that when I started dating her. She seemed a polite, reserved, intelligent, hard-working woman, succeeding in an extremely competitive environment.

Her potty-mouthed smartass sister was the first person to warn me:

Are you ready to be the target of a woman who has to be the best at everything important to her? She will have to be the best lesbian, ever. The best lover. The best wife. Are you ready for that?

It is frightening.