The Atlantic Thinks Women Are Deluding Themselves

July 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Family

By: Kellen Kaiser

his hers

I recently moved in with my new boyfriend. I was interested then to read the Atlantic’s article about the different expectations men and women have regarding cohabitation. It added to the “living together will keep you single” trope by saying that a number of women, who think the man they are living with will marry them someday, are wrong. They framed it by asking whether respondents, 18-26 in age, are “completely committed” and “almost certain” their relationships are permanent. Commitment and permanence are strongly associated with marriage. They may as well have asked- so are ya’ll going to get married someday or not? More of the women studied think it’s headed in that direction.
The article has a tone of warning about it. Look around, it says, are you in one of those relationships right now? If not, beware lest you fall into this trap. There’s even advice given- talk about commitment before moving in- get on the same page- don’t slide into marriage. Being on the same page is great but unless you have bi-monthly check-ins it might be difficult.
Ultimately you can’t control other people. They may say one thing and mean another. How many of the men studied would fess up similarly to the ladies with whom they are involved? They may mean what they say at one point and not another. Relationships are journeys. People change throughout the time they spend together. Commitment is a sort of defense against that inevitability but it too can waver over time. Even marriage is hardly a guarantee of permanence these days. The most troublesome part of the study for me was the near 20% of married respondents who were also on the fence.
While making the leap under these circumstances may seem inadvisable and naïve, I did it with knowledge of the possible consequences; I’d heard  before that people who live together before getting married are less likely to tie the knot and more likely to divorce if they do. In fact, I knew first hand. I lived with my Ex for three out of five years of our relationship, during which I assumed I was headed towards marriage (because he said as much). Before making a similar leap again into “living in sin,” I asked myself -was it the living together that had done us in?  A preview is not always a good thing. That being said, men aren’t the only ones who’d like to taste the milk first, so to speak. I, personally, would rather know what I’m getting into- it’s why I don’t buy clothes online.
What of the women who are in these relationships with men who don’t feel the same way? The 15% who feel “completely committed” while their men can’t say the same and the 13% who are “almost certain” when their fellows aren’t, how should we feel about them? Pity? Consternation?
You might call them hopeful. Wanting to move in sounds positive. Who wouldn’t want to take it to the next step? That next step that everyone’s mom keeps telling you is the Promised Land.
You could say there’s more pressure on women to get married and settle down and so we delude ourselves into seeing possibility when it’s absent. Perhaps men are more hesitant to be vulnerable since they are taught it is a weakness. It puts you out on a limb to say these things, “completely committed” or “almost certain.” They are verbal leaps of faith. They offer up the opportunity for heartbreak and disappointment.
Marriage is totally scary and without significant social pressure folks are less likely to want to do it, especially when they see the current success rate. Maybe they are even less likely if they can get all the same perks by cohabitating. The generation in the study is one raised in the era of divorce, an upbringing that has made some people more serious about marriage and others more avoidant.
The example in the article is a friend of the authors who breaks up with a non-committal boyfriend of five years. She sets an ultimatum and when he falters, moves on. It sounded like agency on her part actually. She probably got to the “marrying age” when most of her peers were coupled, with kids, and decided she wanted that for herself; which is within her rights, as much as it is within his to be honest with his feelings when the ultimatum arrives. You can’t pressure someone into loving you and pressuring someone to commit is relatively the same.
You can formalize the process. The two life paths of cohabitation vs. commitment were like the organic vs. the formal. Marriage is in its essence a formality- a set of rules, a contract, official papers, ceremony. It is perhaps in the fullest form of that definition when someone is in fact uncommitted despite the terms implied- say when in someone else’s bed.
So is the answer then to try and hold out on them? The same basic theory as withholding sex that ends with me not getting laid (lose-lose in my opinion) but with housing? For my own good, (which assumes marriage is still the ideal outcome), I should delay personal gratification in order to tease out commitment from my mate?
Maybe I’m not the marrying type. I don’t see the value in avoiding cohabitation for the sake of some future probability. The man I marry will have to live with me for a long time so he’d better get used to it early. On the other hand maybe that is the sort of thinking that together with other decisions will combine to make my life different than the normative one. I’m more okay with that than most. Maybe ladies need to ask themselves how important marriage is and how many of our decisions we are willing to make on the basis of increasing the likelihood of it happening.
I am trying to go into it with my eyes open this time. While I would claim to be “committed,” I wouldn’t say I’m “almost certain.” Very little is certain in life, other than change being constant and death being at the end. My strategy is to try and avoid things that are some sort of investment towards future dividends because that led to resentment in the past. I could live in fear or even break-up with someone I love to try and prevent heartache in the future or forestall some outcome I find unideal. Life is a set of managed risks and we are better off being aware of which ones we are taking and how risky they in fact are. Maybe it’s my non-traditional upbringing but I say “follow your bliss.” Maybe you won’t end up married but then again maybe you won’t end up divorced either.
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Macklemore’s song “Same Love”

May 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Kellen Kaiser, Same Sex Parent

By Kellen Kaiser

Macklemore-Legalize-Gay-Marriage-200x300

The radio made me cry. I was stuck in the usual crush of LA traffic, impatiently pushing the buttons that change the radio station (my car’s old-school) when Power 106, the major hip hop station switched songs. It had a good beat, a catchy chorus and as I tuned into the lyrics I realized a watershed moment had come. The song“ Same Love” by Macklemore was about homophobia, particularly in hip-hop, and more generally about the need for equality and gay rights. The lyrics include the gem, “I might not be the same, but that’s not important. No freedom till we’re equal, damn right I support it.” I couldn’t help that upon its reaching my ears, tears sprung into my eyes. My favorite verse begins looking forward to “the day that my uncles can be united by law.”

Macklemore, famous from his single which raves about thrift store bargains, on this track laments, “When kids are walking ’round the hallway plagued by pain in their heart. A world so hateful some would rather die than be who they are.” He concedes, “And a certificate on paper isn’t gonna solve it all. But it’s a damn good place to start. He sums it up as, “Whatever God you believe in. We come from the same one. Strip away the fear. Underneath it’s all the same love.” That’s what I’m talking about.

A decade ago as an assignment for a required English class in college I wrote my own version of this song. It wasn’t nearly as eloquent, and was backed by very rudimentary beat boxing on my part, delivered in between verses. “Boom patcha, boom, boom patcha!”  It contained gems like “Your homophobia is bothering me; it makes you a wack MC.”  I got an A on it, which in retrospect seems very generous.

I therefore can’t credit Macklemore fully for the novelty of the concept. He isn’t the first rapper to challenge the homophobic status quo in hip hop but he is symbolic of a larger change. It wasn’t just that it’d been written, other rappers like Brother Ali had beaten him to the punch (Tight rope from 2009) but that it was getting airplay, in a major market.

Equal Rights has hit the mainstream. And for some reason it’s just slowly hitting me that it’s the case. As more and more states pass marriage equality into law, I’ve celebrated and waited for California, my home state, to come around, while I watched the lawsuits wind their way through the courts. My own mother got married in the first round of gay marriage in San Francisco that went on to be annulled. Maybe this feeling, like it could get taken away, like we’re one Republican president away from being back at zero, has distracted me from what going on a the culture at large. When I googled anti–homophobia rap song, I found a PSA from A$AP Rocky advocating equal rights in the classroom and on the sports field. There were quotes from Jay-z and Kanye West lending their support. These signs strike me as more permanent. They can’t be shrugged off as political pandering. They aren’t based in the push pull of the electoral cycles. They are cultural shifts.

Turning on the television, I see an Ad for a new show, produced by JLo, featuring two moms. This adds to the bumper crop of gay characters on TV shows like Modern Family and Glee etc. JC Penney’s ads for both Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day have same sex parents. The New Yorker cover follows suit. This is the definition of a zeitgeist.

I really feel like we are near or at a tipping point where the majority of Americans will believe in equal rights. That’s not to say that the work is done or that the battle is over but that hope is well founded and that what we have established and fought for has mattered and will ultimately prevail.

It’s not that I had it bad growing up, I was raised in a gay mecca in the Eighties, but times really have changed. There were less visible cultural icons to serve as role models. We’re talking Pre-Ellen, Pre Neil Patrick Harris, kiddies. When I was a child the gay characters on TV were guest stars who were dying of AIDS primarily. The books about gay families were published exclusively by tiny independent presses (thank God those existed) and could only be found in major metropolitan areas. I’m not sure Barnes and Noble even existed back then let alone featured a queer studies section. More personally, when my parents got married in a non-legally binding ceremony, my classmates insisted it was impossible that it could have happened and called me a liar. As a kid that was pretty much the worst. Not being believed. Having my reality repudiated.  If I’d been born once marriage equality had entered the national dialogue, my peers might have had a different view point or at least some clue as to what I was talking about. Maybe they would have heard a rap song and formed a more progressive opinion. Maybe one of the few particularly traumatizing episodes of my school years would have been mediated. As a gesture of bittersweet consolation, I will at least have the chance to say … w

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I Became a Dragqueen Nun

February 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Kellen Kaiser, Same Sex Parent

By Kellen Kaiser

kellen nun

It starts with white face, the kind clowns use, smeared on with a sponge and then powdered to matte. Then eyebrows drawn on with greasepaint, cheeks made razor sharp using the side of a piece of cardboard as a guide, and false lashes applied. Glitter is sprinkled everywhere, liberally. Jewels are affixed at certain points for emphasis. This is the process by which I manifest as my alter-ego. I am a girl who doesn’t wear make-up on a daily basis, I couldn’t draw a straight line to save my life, and in a rush the process takes me at least forty-five minutes. The gay boys who have become my second family always inevitably look better than me no matter what I do. Being a living incarnation of the Goddess/Servant of the Holy Spirit is hard work.

Let me explain.  I am one of a few female-born members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. We are an international non-profit organization devoted to social activism, charity work, and spiritual ministry. Started in 1979 in San Francisco by gay men who had raided their high school costume closet for nun garb, the group recently made news as the provocation for Chuck Hagel’s homophobic vitriol. Our motto is “ruining it for everyone.” By dressing in and appropriating religious iconography we court controversy with everything we do.  We also raise lots of money, spread joy and self-acceptance, and generally look amazing.

My first memories of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were from when I was four. It was 1985 and my lesbian mothers took me to their Easter celebration held in a San Francisco alley called Lily Street. I remember them as towering Glamazons with otherworldly outfits and endless attitudes. They wore Easter baskets as hats. Their eyes looked as complicated as Faberge eggs. Their command of femininity astounded me even at that age. I told my mom that when I grew up I wanted to be a Drag Queen.  She approved. There were a lot of years in there I didn’t think it was a possibility.

Then little by little I started to hear about female-born women doing drag and being called “faux-queens.” “High Drag,” it was sometimes called. I read about a girl winning the prestigious Trannyshack title. If they could do it, not even having grown up within the community, then why couldn’t I? Granted at the time I was in a long term hetero relationship that had made me progressively more normal in a terrifying manner. I would spend the next few years ambivalent about my condition and would ultimately find myself single and moving back to my home state of California. Finally, I was introduced to the Abbess of the San Diego house, who was a woman.  Even when she told me the process of becoming a member was intensive and usually took a year and a half, all I could think was, out of my way, I got this.

When people see me out “in-face,” as we Drag Queens call it, they tend to pride themselves on sussing out my gender. “You’re a real girl,” is the most common exclamation. “Everything but the tits…” I say back. They delight to tell me how they figured out that under my make-up I am not a man. “I could tell by the hairs near your ears,” someone once informed me, “they weren’t sideburns.” People regularly admit they didn’t know what I am doing is allowed. At which point I tell them that part of our mission, as an organization, is to defy people’s expectations and I am challenging their perceptions of what Drag means.  I like it even better when people aren’t sure what gender I am. To think that a woman dressed as a woman could help destabilize gender makes me gleeful.

In French the word for make-up, maquillage, comes from “mask”, and it has been impressed upon me many times that people treat me with a sort of reverence when I am in-face. I have counseled men who that day discovered they were HIV positive, men who regularly wouldn’t give me a second glance but who tell me their darkest secrets because of how I’m dressed.  Until the church is willing to accept all of their followers, I will feel justified in ministering to them. While we are controversial even within the gay community and our parody of Catholic religion makes many people upset, in my mind we put it to good use.

When I first started attending meetings and events with the LA chapter, the almost entirely male membership paid me little attention, despite the well-crafted letter of recommendation I’d brought with me from a much loved member of the SF order. The Sisters don’t recruit. This means that they will let you hang out but they won’t be all that friendly or explain things. It took me seven months to figure out that they were never going to invite me to join but that I instead had to declare my intention unheeded. Like in the church, you start the process as an aspirant, and then become a postulant and a novice before finally becoming a fully professed member.  You can do it in eighteen months but it took me two years.

The interim period is filled with make-up tutorials, grunt work, and meetings run with parliamentary levels of efficacy and protocol. It took me a couple of months to match the men I met at the monthly out-of-face meetings to the stunning sirens who arrived at events.  They started at some point to be nice to me and now I feel like the spoiled younger sibling to thirty or so older brothers who like to dress up in Mom’s clothing. Slowly, they let me in on secrets like using hair spray to fix make-up in place and told me stories about how they came to be Sisters themselves. A surprising number of them come from very religious backgrounds. I know at least two who went to seminary. They are now nuns who wear glitter in their beards.

I took my vows more than two years after I began, on a hill under the Hollywood sign, wearing a vintage wedding gown and a white veil. The ritual, done under the discombobulated gaze of tourists poured fresh from mini-buses, involved my being wrapped in a long red cloth and lifted by a bevy of my Sisters into the air. Once aloft I was turned in a circle, high in the sky, supported and yet alone. It was, as it was meant to be, transformative. I am not one of those single women who contemplate just throwing herself a big party in lieu of the wedding yet to materialize, but I felt like this was an awesome alternative, no matter what happens with my love life.

Being in the Sisters has also given me a chance to continue my involvement in the Gay community. One of the weird things about being the straight daughter of lesbians is negotiating where you fit in the world you were raised in. I consider myself Queer but it takes a good five minutes to explain why I fit under that umbrella as a heterosexual. I don’t have much to justify it, outside of my predilection for checking out butch women. Usually when people meet me as “Sister Edna St. Vincent Getlaid,” they don’t question my street cred.

My mom once told me to pursue things in life that were both selfish and altruistic, and the Sisters for me are a great example of this principle. I get to say that I volunteer on a regular basis and yet it usually involves vodka tonics. I have learned service is one of the cheapest and safest highs.  Every year as we walk in Pride parades and wave at the adoring and photo-snapping crowds, and I see amongst them children who look toward me like I once did the Sisters, star-struck and wide eyed, I know I am fulfilling a dream. I may never make it in Hollywood, but I have made it in real life.

 

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Blame Society for Gay Closet

September 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Kellen Kaiser, Same Sex Parent

By: Kellen Kaiser

I had this sense that we were all in it together: Me (the product of a purposeful one night stand by an out lesbian), my A.I.-produced younger brother, and all the kids whose parents came out when they were 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, whatever.

It didn’t matter how we got there. It was Us against the Fundies, I thought. Family vs. Family Values. Maybe I had some sense that the older you are when your gay parent comes out the harder it is likely to be for you. I will admit to that.  But it was only recently that I saw the clear illustration of the difference between children whose parents were out vs. those who are closeted. The longer one waits, the worse it is. Come out, come out, wherever you are. Because, if we as a society are really working in the interest of the children involved there is plenty of evidence to support being proud and happy,and children whose parents hide their identity for years end up feeling betrayed and disappointed.

Cut to me being on this listserve for adult children of gay parents, sponsored by a favorite non-profit of mine, COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everwhere).  So far, I’d kept a place on the sidelines of the virtual exchange. It seemed to function primarily as a vehicle for giving and receiving support, a place to seek advice and safely vent while finding common ground. Since, even there, my situation was unique, I’d kept quiet.  I’m 30 and was raised by a group of lesbians in San Francisco. My parents were all out before I was born and I’ve been blessed to have as mothers four of the most amazing women on earth. Consequently, I had never dealt with my parents coming out or any of the turmoil that comes with it.

When I finally felt the need to chime in, I wanted to make sure that it didn’t come off like I was bragging, as though to say, well, my family’s so much better… but to address some of what I’d been hearing in the stories being shared. There seemed to be a common narrative of angst over the destruction that their parent’s coming out wrought on their “normal” family.  I get that- though I have no experience as such, I can see how having your reality turned upside down would be a frightening and disappointing experience.  In particular, one woman’s version of events — in which multiple disclosures from her father revealed a positive HIV status and a very unhealthy lifestyle as well as a new orientation — must have been hard to accept.

Still, I wanted to put out there that these are the dividends of shame and secrecy and ultimately we need to blame our bigoted society, not our parents.  If it were not for a culture that is so homophobic that people feel the need to create whole lives to hide their true identities, they’d not be put in these situations. People who repress their real nature for years often have serious issues like addiction, and internalized homophobia -which you’d expect must be a factor in staying closeted for that long and probably complicates their sense of self worth. I know many people have succumbed to self-destructive behavior for similar reasons. I hoped these adult children might find a measure of compassion for parents by looking at it through this lens.

So I wrote a letter to the listserve saying as much. To the lady who had complained that her relationship with her dad had changed for the worse. I basically said: Can we hold them accountable for their behavior- expect them not to be assholes or abandon relationships/parental duties? Of course! To the person whose dad was dating someone her age, I rhetorically suggested, is it generally embarrassing when parents date radically younger people? Definitely! Just as much for the kid whose newly divorced dad shows up with a bright red Porsche and a college coed in the passenger seat. But also added that it could partly be that the years when he might have otherwise enjoyed the company of hot young beefcake, more appropriately perhaps (although it is partially ageism that leads us to feel this way), he was full of guilt, shame, and fear, and was keeping his identity a secret. Now he might just be trying to make up for lost time, make up for all the years when he had to pretend to be someone else. The same way people who are denied a childhood for some reason often try to make up for it as adults, with occasionally bizarre and inappropriate results.

Imagine denying who you are for decades at a time –I challenged my peers. I am by no means saying anyone doesn’t have a right to their feelings, including anger, but I caution placing blame on the heads of those who have been victims of cultural oppression.  If you are angry that they were dishonest, think about why they felt the need to keep it a secret. What was at stake for them? Their jobs, friends, standing in the community? Your love, potentially? It is hugely scary to come out, especially that late in life when the chance to build an alternative life might have passed them by, how unhappy must they have been, for years, to make them brave enough to do so now?

In my life shame and secrecy have played no part and I have huge gratitude for that. When we give up our secrets and hatred as a society no other children will be put in the position they have been.  This is my wish for the future that people won’t have to hide their true selves and consequently won’t have to betray those closest to them when they can no longer repress themselves. But to fight against our homophobic culture we must start by forgiving those who have been victims of it. Getting perspective and cultivating compassion is a first step.

What I was trying to say was- If y’all can accept your gay parents and create a new, more inclusive “normal”, that will be part of building a more just world.  One where your situations will not repeat themselves.

I felt like they should know.

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Daddy Issues

July 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Kellen Kaiser, Same Sex Parent

By: Kellen Kaiser

I don’t date older men. And if I’m being honest, it is at least partially because I was raised by lesbians.

Lord forbid I have “Daddy Issues.”

This term, often applied to strippers and ladies involved in May/December romances, shadows me. I have myself internalized the judgments shot towards dinner tables where a silver fox sits across a girl still wrapped in the spring of youth. I have joined the chorus that says, she must be looking to get what she missed out on at home.

For me, as someone who spent large swaths of her childhood defending the idea that good parenting didn’t necessitate a male role model in the home, it is unthinkable to set myself up for that judgment but also ageist hypocrisy to buy the hype that “Daddy Issues” is selling. Still, my dating record shouts, Nope. No daddy issues here, thanks.

I have never called someone “Daddy” in bed, and recently I’ve started questioning why that is verboten to me, even with men I know I’ll never see again. (One-night stands in other countries, I’m looking at you.) What am I afraid of exactly? That they will call the conservatives and tell on me? Why am I giving the phrase so much power?

It’s not as though I am repressing some unfulfilled desire. I am okay with sticking to young, nubile hunks but it’s weird to figure out that your sexuality is being run by fear/politics/others’ opinions. Even if I already knew on some level that it inevitably is, that culture is what molds our desire regardless. There is no escaping that. But as someone who consciously eschews the influence of such things, who has embraced a more alternative and free approach to sex than most, I’d like to think I know better.

That’s the problem with serving as a representative for a whole group of people, for example me being a proxy for all kids of gay parents, otherwise known as the dilemma of minority. You end up creating your identity in reaction, in order to fill in the negative space of others’ projections of you. Oh, the Christian Right says we’ll all turn out this way. Let me prove them wrong. Only this is a self molded by one’s adversaries. Although aren’t we always, in the end? So much of character is pushback.

My own relationship to that all important male figure, Father, or in my case the man who happened to bed my mother for one night in Paris, has been intermittent. Since it turned out he lived in Berkeley, he has been in and out of contact since my infancy. I am not the only one in my social circle for whom this was the case, but I am certainly the most defensive about it not being a big deal. Many a time have I told a reporter that with four moms, another parent would be less than appealing. This isn’t a confession otherwise. I have been plenty parented, so to speak. I have had male friends and teachers. I am involved enough in the gay community to get a healthy and regular dose of male perspective, even from men approximtely Dad’s age. I’ve done alright for myself romantically. It’s not that there haven’t been moments in life where I’ve exclaimed that I just don’t get men and fear I never will, but I am hardly alone in this feeling of divide between genders. Plenty of ladies who had dads at home are similarly befuddled without the excuse. And, really, should the presence of an individual and one’s experience of them be used as a model for the sex as whole? Is it fair to say having a dad around better prepares you for the other couple billion men on the planet? I mean isn’t that where so many so called “daddy issues” begin, when women go looking for a replacement?

People talk about women searching for and marrying men who are like their fathers. I know in my case it is less likely since I know comparatively little about my father’s character. It would be hard for me to go searching for someone I barely know. My exes have instead shared traits in common with my various mothers.

Maybe I have “Mommy Issues” instead.

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Mother’s Day with Four Moms

June 1, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Same Sex Parent

By: Kellen Kaiser

To those familiar with my unique upbringing, a common comment is “How is Mother’s Day for you?” I joke that it is pretty stressful, what with the four moms. The truth is I get let off the hook perhaps because of their number. I am not expected to send flowers or cards because they know how expensive that would be. Most years the day involves only a sequence of phone calls, sometimes repeated if someone can’t immediately be reached.

This year though I went all out and drove home to visit. I can proudly say that on Sunday I managed to see all four mothers and without resorting to making them all come to me. Starting the morning in Mendocino County at the family cattle ranch where my 86-year-old godmother Helen resides, I rose from the bed wherein the night before I’d curled up next to her in replication of many nights from my childhood. We’d watched the Devil Wears Prada, on a tiny generator-powered TV, before falling asleep. She loves Meryl Streep. Waking up sweaty and thirsty, I padded out to where she sat reading the local paper. “You can make yourself some eggs; I ate a few hours ago,” she calls out. At nine am her day is in full swing while I feel like I’ve gotten up early. Asking what the plans for the day are, she says “well, you don’t have much time do you, before you have to get going?” Three hours but they go by fast. She asks my thoughts on the Occupy movement, and we compare the current economic crisis to what it was like growing up in the Depression.  I mention the destruction wrought on the black middle class and the conversation detours briefly onto Trayvon Martin before coming back around to the need for more programs like the CCC. “That’s how my brother got a job,” she says, “back in the thirties.” Noon sneaks up on us. Time to go.

I then meet up with mom Kyree and her girlfriend Kathy at the veggie Chinese restaurant on the grounds of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Talmadge. It’s a monastery built on a property that used to be a mental institution. The buildings have that particular creepy architecture as a reminder. It was perhaps not a traditional Mother’s Day brunch but the wheat gluten was delicious, the roaming peacocks were atmospheric if also making sounds akin to copulating cats, and we snuck a peek at the rows of geriatric and genuflecting black robed nuns on the way out. They were having services in the main hall, where a younger female voice’s chanting was amplified for the crowd to follow. Ten thousand golden Buddhas of various sizes lined the walls. Music stands held pamphlets filled with prayers written in Chinese, one each next to where they bowed to the ground. I worried a few wouldn’t be able to get back up. A line of walkers stood against a wall near where outside on a folding table,containers of tea appeared in a wide selection of capped jars, water bottles, and travel mugs.

Walking back towards her car, my mother Kyree crowed that she and the girlfriend have been together nine months and were still happy! She says it like she’s climbed Mount Everest. I think to myself that the fourteen years she spent married to my other mother Nina count as a Hollywood lifetime. A regular miracle.

She has brought her pets with her, one giant horse-like dog and one “chaweenie” as they call them, half Chihuahua, halfDachshund. They claw at the generously cracked window as we approach bearing gifts. We bring them a soup’s to go container full of water, it’s a day of curious vessels for liquids, and try to convince the animals to drink. The little one does so enticed by a treat. A passing SUV hollers out of their window to ask, “Is that a wolf?” “No, part wolfhound though,” Mom answers. “Cool dog!” they shout back. Before leaving each other there was a less than customary but rather primal feeling “tick check” which in this case yielded two culprits loitering near Mom’s hairline. Maybe they came with your dogs, or maybe they are your power animal, I tell her.

From there I drive to San Francisco, where I have plans to meet godmother Margery and her girlfriend of over nine months at a Japanese place in the Mission. Because it is the Bay Area we only eat ethnic food. We are all pretending to be Anthony Bourdain. It’s true. My sweet godmother is coupled seriously for the first time in thirty years. Margery turned seventy a few weeks before and much like the flowers that accompany her spring birthday, she is blooming. She’s fallen in love, a friend from high school and she were reacquainted, both “out” for years and you know that joke about what does a lesbian bring to the second date? A U-haul. That applies here. There is an innocence to her romantic endeavors. I have a hard time imagining a situation in which someone my age would act so “foolhardy” to just leap in. With her I find it inspiring. Nowadays with seventy being the new fifty, it is just a midway point. Perhaps before then she had begun to surrender. She has a voice she uses when she’s feeling like an old lady, her little ole’ me inflection, but for love she’s begun to get in shape, losing weight, being healthy so she and her sweetheart can go hiking, see the sights together.

Old people aren’t known to be compromising. They are used to providing for their own needs but also getting their own way.They negotiate sleeping in the same room. Her girlfriend has gotten “shotgunners” -big headphones to muffle the sounds of Margery’s snoring. They want to take a road trip to Oregon, so they have to figure it out. Renting two rooms would get pricey.

We talk over dinner about a recent Time magazine article on shyness. Included in it was a survey that helped to determine where on the spectrum of introverted vs. extroverted one stood. I’d come across a copy that morning at the Ranch and had read the answers Helen, my other godmother, had provided. It included statements like “I rarely feel lonely. I’d prefer to work alone.” Basically waste your fuss on someone else.  I have long held some concern over her living at the ranch all by her lonesome and her answers help to momentarily put those fears at ease. She wasn’t sitting by the phone afterall. I posed the same basic question to the two ladies I was sharing dinner with. Do they consider themselves introverts or extroverts? The girlfriend mentions a lover who died a decade before and how she shut herself off from the world as a result. Had she and Margery not connected she might have continued to live in exile.  She says in reference to Margery- she has such a full life, it’s like shock therapy.

Near nine pm I roll into my final destination where the woman who bore me sits in the house I grew up in, watching Criminal Minds on TV. In her hand sits a glass of syrupy Orange Muscat.She brags she has recently acquired a pet leech and would I like to see it? My mother is a nurse and also into all kinds of kinky things, it makes perfect sense to me that she would want a leech but I can’t stop my face from curling into a grimace when I consider it. “It’s for Blood Play!” She says cheerfully, “but somehow I can’t find anyone who’ll let me put it on them.” “You don’t say,” I answer drolly. People will let you stab and pierce and cut them but try and put a leech on them and they freak right out. I can’t imagine. She tells me that so far the only person she’s put it on is herself. You have to feed it every forty five to sixty days. “Did it hurt?” I ask. “Less than I expected.” This makes sense evolutionarily speaking, since it would be in the leech’s best interest to go unnoticed to get a full meal. Mom says that when the leech was full, it just let go and rolled right off her thigh. “Like a man after sex,” she says.

When I acquiesce to a viewing, she picks up a mason jar that’s been sitting in plain view on the coffee table. It has a cheery gingham cloth on its top and looks like the sort of thing usually full of beans for soup or cookie mix, a down-homey Christmas gift. In this case it holds cloudy liquid with a thick dark slick at the bottom. I might have guessed it was moonshine had the slick not begun to move when my mother put her finger on the side of the jar. In movement it changed shape oozing long then bunching up short following my mother’s digit like a cobra with a flute. “Her name is Bethie” my mother tells me, “Isn’t she beautiful? I love how she dances!” A minute later, a cloud of dark ink rises in the water muddying its color further. “She’s throwing up” my mom says, “I’d be really worried but the woman who gave her to me said it would happen. I’m still a little concerned.” We stare into the glass jar together watching the leech curl up and twirl. I find that despite my repulsion I am hoping the leech is okay. Mom says maybe it’s a sign she’s getting ready to eat again. I respond that if I wake up in the middle of the night and that thing is on me, we’re going to have big problems.  We go back to watching TV.

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I’m Special

April 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Kellen Kaiser, Same Sex Parent

By: Kellen Kaiser

 

 

You know that Radiohead song? The one that goes, “I want you to notice when I am not around. You’re so f-cking special. I wish I was special.” Like Mr. Thom Yorke and most artists, I also fluctuate between an inflated sense of self-importance and abject insecurity. Like most people I struggle with how much to blame my parents for any of those character flaws. The only thing different might be my place in history. There I go sounding like I’m really special, but by place I mean context not conceit.
When I was born in 1981, not that many lesbians were having kids. Even in San Francisco. Separatism was strong, intentional child bearing was rare. Those lesbians that did have kids usually had them with men and then later came out.
What’s the difference between being born to people who are straight and then come out vs. being born to someone who is already gay? I’m pretty sure that study has yet to be done.  Maybe there’s none at all. I’ve drawn the distinction in my mind though in terms of who counts in front of me in line in the queue of Queerspawn.  Like, they don’t really count, only the other people born to “out-at-the-timers” are my competition for who’s first. Who is the firstborn of the Gays!
I am going to admit something. For quite awhile I thought it was me. It’s kind of strange really that I harbored some sense of being “the first” because there were always Queerspawn around and some were older.  It was San Francisco in the eighties. There were enough kids like me in my elementary school to inspire our folks to found the Lesbian and Gay Parents Association. Maybe I always assumed they were the products of heterosexual marriages that failed? Maybe it was similar to the way other children think they are adopted, despite evidence to the contrary, another instance in which feeling special/different is at the heart of the matter. I am likely in the first one hundred if you’re using my method of determining who counts, just for the record…
Here’s another megalomaniacal homemade myth I’ve got going- that I grew up in lock-step with the growth of the gay community- see there wasn’t always a gayborhood (pre-dates me by twenty years though).  There was a time before large institutions like GLAAD (founded in 1985) and HRC (1980-ish). Before Artificial Insemination even. When my moms decided to have me, it wasn’t nearly as common to pop over to the sperm bank as it is these days. There weren’t “Out” celebrities or Heather has two mommies. My folks had to break in my elementary school staff with in-services and extended parent-teacher conferences.  When my godmother Helen left her husband in the 1960’s, it meant an abandonment of maternal ambitions in exchange for the freedom of personal expression. It was only as years passed, as the community grew that she had the chance to meet the people with whom she would parent. It was only as the variables of time, progress, and happenstance coalesced that my being became a reality.
Does all of this read like an essay secretly titled “Why I’m Special by Kellen Kaiser”?  It’s weird how you can spend decades defending your normality only to then turn around and defend your difference. Life is funny that way. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There were some normal things about my family and some weird ones. Who defines normal anyway?
What does special mean? It means “different” but with a positive spin put on it- think of the Special Olympics. That was a lot of what my childhood was about. I didn’t stand a chance at fitting in so instead it was more about learning to use difference to my advantage. There were two main sources that fed my quasi-narcissism. On one side, I had the world at large who insisted in both positive and negative ways that I was special. I was invited on news shows to defend my family; the attention told me that I was great but then grown adults publicly considered my future ability to function in society. Either way I’m special right? On the other side I had my four mothers who thought I was the best, most beautiful, intelligent girl to grace the planet. Their love for me is overwhelming on occasion.
There is a poem that I wrote when I was in eighth grade.  I won’t torture you with the actual lines but the general gist was me wanting to be average, unremarkable, plain even.  A million hipsters have wished in the opposite direction. It was only a moment, a day in which the minority burden of representing your demographic for the world seemed like more work than it was worth. I’ve got a lot more poems hoping for someone to take notice of how special I really am. Which is true for most of us, we would like to be appreciated if only we can stand to put ourselves out there. 
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You Have How Many Moms?

March 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Parenting

By: Kellen Kaiser

I was raised by lesbians. Yeah, but nowadays, who wasn’t? Even if I’m a little older than most, having been born in 1981, my situation becomes more common by the day. So the more remarkable thing seems to be their sheer number. When I tell people I have four moms, the common reaction, outside of raised eyebrows, is an attempt to figure it out. Two moms who got divorced and remarried is the most often given wager. Nope. Reasonable but wrong and interesting to me in the sense that it shows how pervasive the nuclear model is. We apply it instantly even to lesbians.

When I tell them an original three chose to parent together and then a fourth married in, I still can’t be sure they understand it. There is often an assumption applied that the three were all sexually involved, a threesome of motherhood which exposes another internalized belief about family, that those who parent together sleep together. In my case my biological mother, one Nina Kaiser, chose to parent with her lover and best friend. Three ladies, one baby. While the romantic relationship between the two ladies, Nina and Margery, didn’t last, the parenting paradigm did, a lesson that could certainly be followed in straight circles better. Eventually my bio-mom married another woman, Kyree, which then made four. That’s a lot of mothers! But there were mostly advantages to having extra parents.

More hands to hold me, more bosoms to hug. More parents to read my blog.

As a child, I didn’t get away with much (too many eyes watching over me), but I did occasionally manage to pit them against each other. I developed a technique in which I’d ask all four, one at a time, for whatever I wanted. I had four possible yes’s which I’d try for in succession until I’d heard four no’s.

Even now, when I have a dilemma, I have four numbers to dial, calling each one until I get an answer, or the advice I was looking for. The phrase it takes a village applies here. I have inherited personality quirks from each of them. As I grow older there will be four aging women to care for, two extra parents to some day grieve, but all in all I feel like I make off like a bandit.

The nuclear family model is so ingrained in our culture. My parents’ multiplicity has allowed me to question that dynamic. I have given thought to who I want to parent with, whether that is my sexual partner (whoever that may be in any given moment) or my friends. I have enough gay community that if I chose co-parenting in that vein it could be a reality. It’s a huge commitment being a parent. Especially if you aren’t biologically obligated and I am eternally grateful that the three women outside of my bio-mom cared enough about me to do so, and to continue to show up as the years go by. Love makes a family but that also in some ways defines it as a voluntary position.

Do we choose our families? We do and we don’t. We certainly choose our level of attachment
to them. We can choose to embrace those we weren’t born related to in the fashion of those we were, making the word form to our own definition. In the gay community the word “family” can be fraught, laden with the intolerance and rejection people have faced in their past, but it is also the holy grail of acceptance -a sense of no longer being alone. We are family! The disco song blares, an anthem of confidence and hope both. We make our families and they make us. 99.9% of the time I feel like I won the lottery, family-wise. The Robber Baron of Moms. I have four of the best parents on earth. So many people don’t get a single good one and I got a quartet. It seems unfair, really. The .01% of the time is when I’m thinking what man in his right mind would sign on for four mothers in law?!

Doubt that really evens it out though. More mommies, more problems? Nope.

Love you Moms!

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