the printed thoughts of a woman on a journey towards awareness, truth, acceptance, clarity, and forgiveness...with some fun and fearlessness thrown in

Sunday, June 27, 2010

none of the above

I had a medical procedure done last week that required me to be semi-sedated, so I needed someone to be there with me to drive me home. Although I am unmarried, and this is clearly indicated in my medical records, I was told that I should make sure my husband could be there and was assured that he (my imaginary husband) would be in the room with me during the procedure. Now, I have been in a heterosexual partnership for almost ten years, so I am used to people referring to my partner as my husband, but I still think it's strange that people even assume that I am heterosexual, much less married. And don't even get me started on the reproduction issue! Apparently, it is everyone's business when you decide not to have children, and they will remind you almost constantly with stupid questions like, "Who's going to take care of you when you get old?" and with idiotic statements like, "You'll change your mind someday." Oops, I guess I got started.

Because I am unmarried and have no children, I seem to be less important than many others. While we celebrate the longevity of marriages through anniversaries, there is no such recognition for unmarried couples. Many are quick to point out that without a legal commitment, it is easier for unmarried couples to "just walk away" from the relationship. Perhaps, but if this is true, isn't it more of an accomplishment to stay together for 10 years without a legal bond than with one? And isn't a couple without children more likely to be together because they actually love one another than one with children who are "staying together for the kids?" I won't hold my breath waiting for Hallmark to publish the list of traditional gifts for the anniversaries of unmarrieds, and I really don't need external validation. I just don't want to be demeaned and undervalued.

Our culture even devalues those choices that fall outside the accepted norm through our language. There's not even a word to describe my relationship. Instead of being able to say that I am married to a husband, I must explain that I am in a long-term, committed, co-habitating relationship with a male partner. I like to use the word "partner" when I refer to Mitchell, since it most closely recognizes the role he plays in my life, but this often leads to confusion about my sexuality. The word "boyfriend" doesn't differentiate him from some guy that I'm just dating and is the same word that a seventh grader would use. There's always "fiance," but, of course, that word implies that a wedding is imminent.

While my experiences are annoying, I know that they only scratch the surface of what so many others are subjected to. I have friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, polyamorous, asexual, transgendered, transsexual, intersexed, and genderqueer. I also have friends who have no idea what at least half of those words mean. In any case, I know that I am lucky to have the external genitalia, internal organs, and chromosomes to match my internal sexual identity. I guess you could say that I'm lucky to be white, to be straight, and to be in a long-term relationship. I realize that I am not far from the mean on the societal bell curve, but I'm not ignorant enough to believe that everyone else thinks, lives, loves, and votes like I do. I thought this country was founded on individual differences and personal freedoms. (I know it really wasn't, but that IS what they taught us in school, right?) Call me old-fashioned, but I think we risk alienating others when we assume that we know who they are and what they believe or when we force them to identify themselves with a label.

What would it be like to fall outside of society's check-the-box mentality? Imagine having to refer to your spouse as your "roommate." Imagine worrying that someone will ask you about your relationship status and you will feel forced to either "come out" or lie to hide the truth. Imagine being called ugly names like "faggot," "homo," or "he-she." Imagine being afraid of being attacked in a public restroom, because either your "parts" or your outward appearance doesn't match the label on the door. Imagine binding your breasts tightly against your chest. Imagine tucking (maybe even taping) your penis and testicles back toward your buttocks. Imagine being stared at while people try to figure out what gender you are. Imagine waking up everyday and seeing a body that doesn't match how you feel on the inside. Imagine. Open your mind (and your heart) & just imagine.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

rescuing me

For four years, I ran an animal rescue. I named it after my dog, D.J. A rescued dog herself, D.J. came to live with me after my first dog, Trapper, died suddenly after ingesting rat poison. She filled an empty place in my heart and was my rock through some difficult times. D.J. was sweet, funny, and gentle, and she loved playing nanny to the newcomers in the house. She suffered from a degenerative disease which affected the discs in her spine, but she never let it slow her down, particularly when it came to providing leadership and guidance to the animals in the house. At one point, she was paralyzed in her front legs for almost 2 weeks, but even that couldn't dim her spirit. Sadly, though, in the end, her spirit was unable to overcome the limitations of her body, and D.J. died very suddenly at the too young age of 11 to kidney failure.

Though I am no longer actively involved in rescue, I still get a lot of emails and postings about animals in shelters who need rescue and about animals who have been rescued and need transportation. Whenever I can, I send some money to help those in the trenches, and I have driven a bunch of dogs up and down the highways. I've even provided overnight accommodations as needed. But, until very recently, the idea of adopting another pet hasn't been on my mind. I have a full house--3 dogs & 2 cats--oh yeah, and an allergic human partner.

I think about D.J. a lot and even have her picture as the background on my laptop, but for about a week starting in the middle of May, she was heavy on my mind. I couldn't stop thinking about her. It wasn't until Tuesday, May 19th, that I figured out why. She was trying to tell me something--to tell me about a dog that she wanted to save. In the midst of those tons of emails and postings, I had found one dog, a young, female, yellow Labrador retriever, who grabbed my heart and wouldn't let it go. She was in a shelter in North Carolina. I am in Connecticut. It was impractical. It made no sense. It would be difficult, but I still wanted to do it. I wanted to rescue and adopt her.

I woke up before 5:00 am and started sending emails. I made phone calls all morning. I called Mitchell and broke down. He kindly reassured me that he would support my decision. When I said, "But, it's so impractical," he responded with a quick, "So what. Nothing about us is practical." Before I knew it, I was trying to arrange for the dog to be saved. The phone at the shelter was busy. I redialed and redialed. Finally, someone answered. I gave him the dog's ID number. He told me that she had already been adopted. My heart sank. I feared that she had actually been killed. I was disappointed that she wouldn't be with me. I considered adopting another dog, but my heart wasn't in it, so I donated some money to the veterinary care of the many who were saved that day.

I went through the rest of the day with an empty feeling. I had already fallen in love with this dog, and now I would never know her. I assumed that that was the end of the story until I got home and found a posting by the group who had rescued "my" dog. Apparently, a group of people who loves Labs had rallied around her and, through their online community, arranged to have her pulled from the shelter, checked by a veterinarian, and fostered until transport could be arranged. Multiple people donated money for her care, and a woman in Maine committed to take her. I posted a comment about how I had attempted to adopt her and was happy to know that she was safe. I sent in some money for her care. Once again, I assumed that was the end of it.

Later that evening, I received a message from the adoption sponsor in Maine. She wanted to know if I was still interested in adopting the dog. What?!?! Of course, I was! She said that there were others interested in adopting her, but that she felt that I might be the right choice. My hopes soared once more. I couldn't sleep that night. I looked at pictures and videos of her posted by her rescuer. I imagined what it would be like to have her join my family. I couldn't focus on much else. I was scheduled to leave in just a day and a half for a week-long trip to Indiana for a friend's wedding and visiting my sister and my friends, but I hadn't even started to pack. Instead of mapping my route and planning my lunch dates with friends, I was trying to figure out how to get the dog from eastern NC, where she was being fostered, to the western part of the state, where Mitchell would be attending his annual business meeting the next week.

After another long day of worrying and wondering, I got the call I had been hoping for. The dog was mine! I was so excited! Right away, my trip to Indiana was canceled, and I started planning how I would get the dog from her foster mom and brainstorming names for my new addition. I eventually settled on "Iko," a name that I had wanted to use for a while, but hadn't yet met the right dog for. And, as luck (or fate) would have it, I was able to coordinate with her foster mom to meet up for her exchange. Our long drive to North Carolina was made a little easier knowing that I would soon be meeting Iko for the first time. The hardest part was waiting out the next day and a half in a hotel room in Wilkesboro, NC, and even the series finale of "Lost" couldn't hold my interest or attention for long.

Iko was rescued from the Robeson County Animal Shelter in St. Pauls, NC on May 19, 2010, and I saw her for the first time in a McDonald's parking lot in Zebulon, NC on May 25, 2010. Since, then she's secured her place in my home, my family, and my heart. She is goofy, smart, loving, playful, and pretty.

But, once again, the story doesn't end there. As much as Iko's adoption came as a bit of a surprise, I have also been pleasantly surprised to have many of the people involved in her rescue become dear friends of mine. Though we've never met in person (except one), I feel as if I've known them forever. They get me in the same way my best friends do, fulfilling my first and most important criteria for friendship. I respect their passion and am in awe of their ability to achieve tasks which would seem impossible to most. I believe that there was something very special about the way that I was led to Iko and the series of events which unfolded to make her adoption possible. I believe that this something special has also brought these new friends into my life. They've reminded me of the need for boundaries and of the value in humor. They love dogs, and they dislike drama. They're "good people," as the old saying goes, and I have no doubt that D.J. would approve!