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Tell the truth [SSM]

Some time, within the next six weeks or so, the California Supreme Court will announce its decision in the Proposition 8 cases. As a woman who was raised by lesbian parents, and has twice been married to a woman herself, this issue is very important to me, very personal, and carries with it a lot of anger, frustration, and grief.

I reference my posts here and here for some background and some details.

My goal is to blog about same sex marriage every day until the Court decides. I’ll tag these as SSM, they will be public, and I invite you to link to the posts, or to retell the stories to friends, family members, and coworkers who don’t understand what same sex marriage really is, and what legalizing it means. I’m happy to be a same sex marriage poster girl.

One of the rallying cries used to encourage people to deny equal rights to LGBT people is “think of the children” and Save Our Children. As a child growing up in a lesbian-parented household, I learned things like ballet dancing, cookie baking, and how to read a train schedule.

I also learned how to lie. Because if used the most accurate words to describe my family, no one would believe me. I wouldn’t get the same treatment as anyone else. And once I told the truth, I couldn’t un-tell it. We could not, for instance, drive from hospital to hospital on Christmas Day 1999, looking for one that would accept that Mom and Shirley were partners. So she was checked in to Oschner, and told that Mom was her sister.

During the year and change that she was an oncology patient, she was close enough to her doctors that they gave her birthday cards and a teddy bear and arranged for a birthday cake to be delivered to her hospital room. Yet she never felt comfortable telling them that she’s a lesbian. The hospital staff remarked on how much my mom, aunt, and grandmother look alike, and yet Shirley didn’t resemble any of them. My adoption made it easy to explain why I’m so tall, big, and freckled, but no explanation was ever given for Shirley’s blonde hair and dark tan.

My mom and stepmom were worried about what my presence, or my careless use of language might do. What if I outed them? What if I slipped, and used a California term like “domestic partner?” Would she continue to receive high quality medical care? Would my mother still be trusted as her caregiver and next-of-kin? Would pitchers of ice water continue to appear? Or would she need to wait hours for more morphine to be added to her IV drip?

The first time that she told a medical care provider that my mother was her partner was when she was admitted into hospice care. A relationship that lasted for almost thirty years should not require lying and subterfuge.

When a woman arrives at the ER and says to the triage nurse, “My wife has been experiencing diarrhea, bloating, weight gain, abdominal tenderness and fatigue,” the response should be “Does she have a fever? Has she experienced any vaginal bleeding?” and not “What do you mean, your ‘wife’?”

A family member with Stage III ovarian cancer is hard enough. Remembering to lie constantly, and say that she was my aunt just made it more miserable.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 24th, 2009 12:38 am (UTC)
I am really glad you are sharing these stories. Thank you for giving us a peek into such a heartwrenching experience. It means a lot.
Apr. 24th, 2009 01:36 am (UTC)
/me hugs you...
Apr. 24th, 2009 05:08 am (UTC)
Thanks for sending this story out. More people need to see the commonality between us all. It's a very moving story.
Apr. 24th, 2009 10:26 am (UTC)
thank you for sharing this.... I will pass it on if that's okay - more need to read this....
Apr. 24th, 2009 03:39 pm (UTC)
you're welcome. And yes, please do pass this on. I'm intentional about what I leave as a public post. And while yes, this is deeply personal information, it is more important that the people who are not my friends see it than those who are.
Apr. 24th, 2009 01:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you this is soooo true, you put into words beautifully what I have felt the last 7 years.

As me and my wife get older this is a HUGE concern so huge we actually thought of having one of us change her name to the others last name so we could say we were "sister's* *sigh*
Apr. 24th, 2009 02:58 pm (UTC)
I'm so sorry.

I'm going to particularly pick out the part where your parents were worried that you might be dangerous to the deception, because that sounds horrible and also like it probably didn't get dealt with at the time. So extra ::hugs:: for that bit.

If you don't mind my asking, how did revealing the truth affect the hospice care experience?
Apr. 24th, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC)
The intake worker for the hospice, who was someone who also continued to provide some emotional support, came out to Shirley and I after Shirley came out to her. She reassured us that this information would help them to provide the best services that they could.

There was a form that got filled out every time there was a home visit from one of the hospice workers. It had information about Shirley's condition, as well as note on how Mom was coping or not coping, and I think helped the hospice staff to be attentive to how my mom was doing. I think that the hospice staff provided excellent care, both physically, as well as emotional support. The hospice chaplain came over the night that Shirley died-- and she died at 9:30 pm. He and I took care of the disposal of the controlled meds, he provided comfort to my mother and I, and did so in a way that wasn't religious-y, if that makes any sense.

One of the things that is a carry-over from being in a lesbian family for so long is that the things that were safe and comfortable in Louisiana 1973 (when we began living together) or 1984 (when I had my first same-sex kiss) or 1989 (when my marriage became a same sex relationship) are things that generally continue to be safe, but that may no longer be necessary in order to maintain safety.

It is hard to know how "out" or how "obvious" or how "recognizably gay" one can be, and once you go too far, you only find out because of the negative consequences.
Apr. 24th, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
It is hard to know how "out" or how "obvious" or how "recognizably gay" one can be, and once you go too far, you only find out because of the negative consequences.

Absolutely, yeah. That's a one-way path there.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )