In transit

I’m in an airport, between planes. I’ll finish this up on the last leg home and post it tonight.


My fiancée went out West last week.

She started and runs her company. She’s turned over day-to-day management to her partners. So she can come and go as she pleases.

I had to go to Asia for work, but I’m free for the next month.


We will be married at my fiancée’s family’s ranch. It’s spectacularly beautiful, especially at this time of year. It’s in a valley bounded on both sides by untouched mountain wilderness. The sun will be going down over the mountains to the west during our ceremony.

Her family has spent the last year restoring the ranch house and sprucing up the yards and outbuildings.

Her great-great grandfather received the land as a grant for his service in the Civil War. He was an inveterate improver, innovator and experimenter.

My fiancée’s great-grandmother kept a scrapbook of newspaper articles about her father. Almost every edition of the county weekly newspaper had an article about one or another of his innovations – the electric generator and banks of batteries to light and power the ranch, the irrigation system that still waters the ranch, the various machines he bought. There are also articles about his lawsuits against mining companies for polluting the stream that waters the ranch.

He built the house in a grand style for his family of nine children.


We’ll be married in a field. The forecast is for beautiful weather. If it rains, we’ll be married in one of the old barns.


My fiancée will pick me up at the airport. We’ll have dinner at the restaurant where we met. Last year, we had dinner there on the first anniversary of our meeting. This year, it’s a little earlier. We have a more pressing engagement for the actual anniversary.

We’re going to have our rehearsal dinner at the restaurant Friday night. The ranch is 75 miles away, but the restaurant is in the nearest town large enough to have an adequate supply of hotel rooms.

Tonight, my fiancée and I will be staying at the B&B where we stayed after our anniversary dinner last year. Tomorrow, we’ll go to church at the church I used to attend, then each to her parents’ homes. I want to spend a few days with my family before starting a new life.

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.

 

We aren’t in Kansas anymore

Nor, indeed, in my home state.

Everyone I knew growing up was white, other than a few Hispanic and American Indian families. Everyone was a Christian. Everyone worked on a farm or ranch or in a business that supported farmers and ranchers.

I first met an African-American at the University. I had a Jewish roommate, but everyone she knew was Christian.

Most of my home county is uninhabited. Even in the valleys, ranch houses are miles apart. The largest town in my county has a population of just over 1,000.

My Love’s county is even emptier, whiter and more agricultural. The towns (all three of them) are even smaller. Much smaller.

Our home counties are poor. The per capita and median incomes are only a few thousand dollars above the poverty line. Over 20% of the population is under the poverty line. The median income is less than two-thirds the national median income. The distribution of incomes is flat. My family was comparatively well off – certainly in the top quintile – but I would have gotten a full scholarship at any decent college.

More concretely, the table of census data below hints at some of the differences between home (figures for my Love’s and my home counties, combined) and Manhattan (New York County).

A few things to note in particular:

  • Our two counties together are about 200 times the size of Manhattan. Yet Manhattan has over 100 times the population. The population density of Manhattan is 20,000 times that of our home counties (almost 70,000/sq mi vs 3.6/sq mi).
  • Home is overwhelmingly (93%) White.
    • There are maybe 25 African-American families, in an area larger than Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut or New Jersey.
    • The largest minorities are American Indian and Hispanic, and their numbers are negligible.
    • Almost everyone was born in the United States and speaks English at home.
  • Manhattan, on the other hand is ridiculously diverse:
    • A quarter Hispanic.
    • Almost a fifth African-American.
    • An eighth Asian.
    • Over a quarter are foreign-born
    • Almost half speak a language other than English at home.
  • Almost everyone at home lives in a single family home. Almost no one in Manhattan does.
  • Per capita income in Manhattan is 3 times that of home.
  • The entire economy of our home counties is agricultural.
  • People at home are more than 5 times as likely to have served in the military.
  • Although the percentages of high school graduates are about the same, the percentage of college graduates in Manhattan is about three times what it is at home.
Home Manhattan
Population 14,573 1,636,268
under 18 17.6% 14.7%
65 and over 26.1% 14.2%
White 93.1% 65.0%
African American 0.3% 18.4%
American Indian 3.5% 1.2%
Asian 0.4% 12.1%
Hispanic 2.5% 25.8%
Foreign born 2.1% 28.5%
Language other than English at home 3.4% 40.4%
High school graduate (age 25+) 87.4% 86.0%
Bachelors degree (age 25+) 18.9% 58.9%
Veterans 13.3% 2.6%
Housing units in multi-unit structures 5.2% 98.5%
Per capita income 20,749 62,498
Median household income 35,602 69,659
Persons below poverty line 20.5% 17.7%
Private nonfarm employment, 2013 2,544 2,116,201
Manufacturers shipments, 2007 ($1000) 8,315,093
Building permits, 2013 4,856
Land area in square miles, 2010 4,488 22.83
Persons per square mile, 2010 3.6 69,467.5

 

The Supreme Court and conflicted me

This was a hard, painful post to write.


I have a selfish interest in the Supreme Court cases on gay marriage.

I have a conflicting philosophical interest.


I don’t believe in natural rights (aka “fundamental human rights”). Natural rights are a matter of faith, not a matter of fact or logic. There’s nothing natural about natural rights.

I believe we have moral obligations to each other. Fear of damnation didn’t guide my conscience. I needed analytic moral philosophy to inform my moral compass. It’s the only thing besides Engineering that I studied systematically. (I have a half-drafted post on the topic.)

I also believe that our political organizations have moral obligations to us. As Machiavelli observed, political moral obligations – the obligation to do justice – are different from individual moral obligations.

Perhaps I’m just playing with words, making a semantic distinction. But I don’t think so. “Rights” are an invitation to argument by assertion, to sloppy thinking, to wishful thinking, to confirmation bias. Natural rights theory doesn’t tell me that Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao were evil. Moral philosophy and philosophy of justice, does.

Rights (other than those granted in law) are just assertions. Thomas Jefferson was a hypocrite and a fool. But in the most famous statement of natural rights, he baldly admits that they are nothing but assertion: “We hold these truths to be self-evident …” Self-evident. The Mommy Defense (“Because I’m your mommy”) is fine for infants, but it’s not a coherent political philosophy.

Much as I want to believe that I have a fundamental natural right to marry someone of my sex, it’s only personal preference. It has no more intrinsic validity than a belief that I have a right to a pony.


Natural rights – natural law – is particularly abhorrent to me as a lesbian.

Natural law is one of the pillars of Roman Catholic theology. And Roman Catholic natural law results in this:

[T]radition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

Start with the self-evident sexual complementarity: A man has a penis, a woman has a vagina, a penis fits in a vagina and it makes babies. Natural law leads ineluctably to homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.

Protestantism explicitly rejects natural law as an authoritative basis for theology. The quoted sentences, have no authority to a Protestant. But clearly many Protestants – as well as Moslems, Hindus, Jews and atheists – believe them anyway.

Of course, the argument is only valid if one accepts the premise of sexual complementarity and each of the intermediate premises.

There’s no point in disputing natural law, just as there’s no point in disputing religious faith. One either believes it – on faith – or one doesn’t. It’s not logical or empirical. It’s a belief system, not a moral or logical system. Any discussion is proselytizing, not persuasion.

Whether sexual complementarity is a valid premise for a natural law argument is beside the point. People believe it. As belief – not logic or empirical observation – it is impervious to logic and empiricism.

Similarly, arguing that we have a natural right to marry someone of the same sex – or even a natural right to love or make love to someone of the same sex – is just proselytizing. It has no more intrinsic truth than sexual complementarity or homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.


Even if I believed in natural rights, I don’t believe that nine old lawyers in Washington have any special ability to recognize their self-evidence. At least, they have no better ability than my fellow citizens.

If a right is fundamental, why isn’t it universally recognized? If it’s self-evident, it should be self-evident to everyone, no? Adopted by acclamation, no?

It’s no argument to say that people are blinded by bigotry or religious belief. It’s either self-evident, or it’s not.


I believe very strongly in democracy, as strongly as I believe in God.

What heartens me most about the Irish gay marriage referendum? It was adopted by popular vote. My Irish brothers and sisters made their case to their fellow-citizens.

I don’t want to be ruled by philosopher kings.

I want to be ruled by representatives elected by we, the people. I want to be able to throw the bastards out.

I don’t care how wise, how benevolent, how tolerant philosopher kings are. I want to be able to throw the bastards out.

The history of philosopher kings does not inspire confidence. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao – all philosopher kings. Each wanted to create a more perfect society.

I don’t want nine (five, really) old lawyers we can’t throw out dictating to bastards we can throw out.

Yes, some of our bastards are corrupt. Yes, some are stupid. Yes, they may sometimes  – often, perhaps – produce stupid, corrupt, bigoted results. Sometimes they are just bastards.

But they’re our bastards.


There are limits to my preference of bastards over lawyers.

We, the people, adopted a Constitution with rules guarantying that we, the people, can throw the bastards out – guarantying civil rights to African-Americans, guarantying the franchise to women and the poor; guarantying free speech and free conscience; guarantying due process before loss of liberty.

I’m happy with having the courts enforce those rules, where they are clear and have the purpose of guarantying a broad franchise and robust debate.

I’m also happy with having the courts enforce rules guarantying civil rights for African-Americans. Slavery, lynching, intimidation, serfdom, segregation, racism and discrimination are so frankly appalling that everyone must be charged to change it. And again, we, the people – our great-great-grandfathers – fought and died and changed the Constitution to keep the bastards in line.

Leaving aside the simple justice of those rights, the people of the United States explicitly and democratically enshrined them in the Constitution, and fought a Civil War to secure them.

The history of African-American civil rights since the Civil War should surely give pause to those who want to trust nine old lawyers in Washington. Within a few years of the Civil War, the Supreme Court turned the civil rights amendments and laws into a dead letter. A few years after that, the Court blessed comprehensive racial segregation. It was almost a century before the Court repented.


But I can’t applaud a court cutting off a democratic solution to other political issues, even for a cause that I love and personally want.

To be blunt, if we can’t convince enough of our fellow citizens to throw enough of the bastards out and establish a right, we don’t deserve to have five old lawyers do it for us.

Frankly, it’s infantile. We want agency, but we have to get our nanny to protect us from the meanies?

The history of abortion in this country should caution us that cutting off democracy perpetuates and entrenches division.


For 20 years, I’ve watched from deep inside a closet as the Jubilee approached.

We are moving rapidly toward acceptance not only of gay marriage but of a man loving a man or a woman loving a woman. I see it every day that I am at home, in a place where gays do not exist. In a state that voted by two to one, and in a county that voted three to one, to prohibit gay marriage.

This isn’t happening by some gay agenda, but by the shocking realization that we gays are, by and large, OK people. As a rule, we’re no better nor worse than straight people. Maybe what we do is icky, but that doesn’t make us icky – let alone evil.

The most important lesson of the Irish referendum is the power of an appeal to our common humanity. I staunchly believe that, while two-thirds of the citizens of my state may be ignorant about gays, no more than a handful hate gays.

I believe that unity can overcome estrangement. All I want is the ability to have the same hopes and fears and aspirations as a straight woman. I just want to marry the person I love, have children with her and see those children have a better life.

Is it irksome that I have to convince my fellow-citizens to let me have those hopes? Yes.

Not as irksome as having to convince five old lawyers in Washington.


Selfishly, I will celebrate if the Supreme Court finds a right to same-sex marriage.

But I will die, a little, inside.

The movement for acceptance and equality will die a little.

And democracy will die a little.

Death

 This originally appeared (in slightly different form) as
my comment on a post at one of my favorite blogs,
eerily cheerily


One of the things that has struck me most strongly about moving from the rural mountain West to New York City: People are insulated from death. I assume that’s true of urbanites, suburbanites and townsfolk everywhere in the developed world.

Most people in the developed world will go through their life never seeing a person die young or violently or suddenly. They might hear of it. They probably have seen a body in a casket. But if they have seen someone die, it will be someone old or frail, in antiseptic conditions.

I’ve never lived in a city before. I’ve only been here a few months. But my Love warned me about this before I came here. I’ve seen it already. People do not understand death, other than death from old age or cancer. They are not equipped to deal with it. They – we – have cultural and social amnesia. If people aren’t exposed to it, it doesn’t happen.

Oddly, they’re the ones who seem to need trigger warnings. Tell someone that your child cousin was killed before your childhood eyes in a horrible accident. You will be met with disbelief, an inability to comprehend. It’s seems to be a sort of PTSD, except that they’ve not had a traumatic stress. It induces cognitive dissonance, in some, a rampart of willful obtuseness.

My Love and I grew up in a different place, the rural mountain West. Young people – even children – die suddenly and violently. I started kindergarten with 30 children, all the 5-year-olds from half a county the size of Rhode Island. Four of those kids were dead in horrible accidents before I left for university. My Love and I have both witnessed sudden, horrible, violent deaths. Deaths of children and family members.

I grew up in town – a very small town, far from any city, but town. We were somewhat insulated from death. My Love grew up on a ranch, where sudden and violent injury, maiming and death are commonplace, a yearly occurrence.

We don’t have shrinks out there. You go to your minister, he tells you your loved one is in a better place and you’d better get back to work or your kids will starve. It’s a harsh world. Leave the dead to bury to their dead.


Slightly edited from the comment.

The Supreme Court and me

It’s a momentous time for a lesbian hoping to marry.

The citizens of Ireland have approved gay marriage.

More important, to me and millions of others, the United States Supreme Court is likely soon to decide two questions:

  • Can a state limit marriage to a straight couples?
  • If it can, must it nevertheless recognize gay marriages from another state?

From a purely selfish point of view, my Love and I want to be married.


Currently, we could marry here in New York, no matter what the Supreme Court says. New York law permits same-sex marriage. Famously, Roy McDonald, a Republican from a very conservative district upstate, voted for the bill:

[Y]ou try to do the right thing. You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, f*** it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing. … They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I’m trying to do the right thing, and that’s where I’m going with this.


It’s more complicated in our home state.

The state constitution was amended to restrict marriage to a man and a woman. A federal court has held that to be unconstitutional, so currently we could get married at home.

However, if the Supreme Court rules that states can restrict marriage to straight couples, the constitutional ban would likely be re-imposed. Worse, the Supreme Court might rule that our home state need not recognize a New York marriage.


Practically, getting married in New York would be a good idea. It would be easier to buy an apartment together. It would be easier to deal with medical crises. It would make it far, far easier to have children together. It would make thousands of smaller things easier.

But we want to marry in a real wedding at home, on my Love’s family ranch. We’re old enough and foolish enough to want to wear white dresses and have a minister and bridesmaids and flowers and Champagne and a big cake. Have dads give away the brides. Exchange rings. Have a reception with funny and syrupy toasts and dancing cheek to cheek. A drunken relative or two. Sneaking off on a honeymoon.

That won’t happen before next summer. But I would like it to happen, and to be meaningful. Not just a nice party with no legal effect.

I thank my Love’s lawyer for helping me understand the legal issues and their status in New York, my home state and the United States. Any errors are mine, of course, and, for goodness sake, don’t take legal advice from me!

Gay: A paradox

Being gay put an end to being gay.

My home town is in many ways a century behind the times. Language evolves languidly. Words have the denotation and connotation that they had a century ago.

When I was a little girl, “gay” was one of my favorite words. It was how I described myself. I was a lighthearted, happy.

I learned its contemporary meaning about the same time as I realized that I was gay in that sense. Being gay put an end to being gay.

Until now. I am happily gay and gayly happy.