Yes #MarriageEquality ‘Cause I LOVE to Cry At Weddings

I TAKE my role as a wedding guest very seriously. In fact, I have a checklist:

Flat shoes, ’cause I like to tear up the dance floor once the giddy couple does their first twirl. I can usually find someone’s old aunt to join me in the Charlie Brown.

Also, a roomy purse to take home a slice of cake. Superstition says that if you sleep with it

Chela Gutierrez (l.) married Cody Shelley in front of God and everybody in a ceremony presided over by sometimes-minister Roy Wood.

Chela Gutierrez (l.) married Cody Shelley in front of God and everybody in a ceremony presided over by sometimes-minister Roy Wood.

under your pillow, you’ll dream of your future spouse. I already married my Jewish McDreamy, but I do like my late night snacks in bed.

By far the most important thing to bring to a wedding is a lot of tissues. Witnessing two people declare that they’re in it together for life—even when the toilet clogs and somebody burns dinner at least once a week—always pushes my happy-cry button. And McDreamy doesn’t like it when I wipe my nose on his yarmulke.

For sure I shed some extra tears at the recent nuptials of Cody Shelley and Chela Gutierrez. Not only were these two lovelies totally made for each other, the ceremony had the distinction as my—and many of the other 250 or guests’—first gay wedding.

The scary storm clouds skedaddled at the last second to reveal a glorious, honey-glow afternoon, as clear a sign as any that the heavens were completely on board.

While they had to get their official marriage license across the border in South Carolina (more on that irony later), Cody and Chela—the communications director at Tybee Marine Science Center and one of Savannah’s Fire Dept.’s finest, respectively—exchanged vows April 18 at Juliette Gordon Low Park in front of a diverse crowd of friends, family, co-workers and cohorts.

To be honest, it wasn’t so different from any other wedding, other than that the betrothed each danced down the aisle to the raucous beats of the SCAD drumline. (Pachelbel’s Canon in D is for straight people and Muggles.)

Service Brewing, the Beer Growler and Five Point Beverage kept the suds and bubbles flowing. There were Pinterest-perfect details like Madame Chrysanthemum‘s fuschia feather bouquets and the pink souvenir koozies emblazoned with “C + C”. The homemade lasagna buffet was followed by a rose-festooned cake, courtesy of Cody’s mom, Diana Shelley. (“No pizza in sight,” somebody snickered.)

As internet-ordained minister Roy Wood (“I bought the collar online, too!”) reminded that we were gathered here today for a purpose “both spiritual and of the earth,” I felt the familiar tears of joy rise.

The event may have been monumental in its political significance, but in that tranquil moment under the shimmery pines, it was simply two people promising to share bathroom towels forever.

Still, when Roy declared, “I now pronounce you ‘Wives for Lives!'” I couldn’t help but bawl out loud for the sweet justice of it all.

I wasn’t the only one clutching a bouquet of wadded-up Kleenex.

“Even though we don’t want to make it a big deal, it is,” sniffed artist and landscape architect Lisa Watson, dabbing at her eyes.

For those who grew up in a time when “gay” was something discussed in hushed, disapproving tones, Cody and Chela’s wedding represented a welcome shift in the direction of cultural enlightenment.

(On a related note, Gay Savannah’s Tybee Rainbow Fest takes over the island this weekend.)

“I think it’s so wonderful,” kvelled liberal maven Miriam Center, marveling at the sea change towards the normalization of gay marriage in the last decade.

“They are great girls and deserve all the happiness in the world.”

Most of us feel exactly the same way. The latest poll shows that 61 percent of Americans believe gay marriage ought to be legal, and the same amount agrees that state bans on same-sex unions should not be.

Georgia remains one of the last 13 holdouts still clinging to its puritanical petticoats as the rest of the country flips a double-bird at pathetic prejudices cloaked as “religious freedom.”

How South Carolina—where it is still illegal to make moonshine or, if you’re under 18, operate a pinball machine—became more progressive than us remains baffling.

This week the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, and it’s looking pretty good that the feds will overturn those discriminatory overtures. Attorney General Sam Olens has said that Georgia won’t fight the supreme edict, though I’ll bet my best Ginger Goff flats that legislation akin to the now-strangled SB 129, aka “the religious liberty bill,” will rear its vituperative snake head in the next session.

For those of us who understand that the most important part of the phrase “liberty and justice for all” is the last two words, marriage equality certainly intersects with civil rights. But Cody is surprisingly thoughtful about whether the fight for it is as paramount as society’s other scourges.

“On one hand, the debate is a distraction from issues of systemic violence and injustice. For me, it’s hard to scream about my right to marry while immigrant children are being deported, trans kids are killing themselves, and the school-to-prison pipeline incarcerates generations of black men,” she muses.

“On the other hand, I’d rather confront those inequalities with a wife by my side. And I damn sure want the same legal rights as the next married couple.”

For now, without the same legal protection, tax benefits and parental rights afforded hetero marriages, Cody and Chela’s union remains symbolic in our home state.

But symbols hold power, and these women showed tremendous courage and generosity by inviting what seemed like half the town to what they called their “big, fat, gay wedding.”

“Our decision to have it in the first half of 2015 was based solely on the upcoming Supreme Court decision,” says blushing bride Cody. (Her sparkling spouse Chela admits all she cared about was getting to dance down the aisle to the drums. That, and getting the girl.)

“I’m proud to have been the first gay wedding for so many friends and families. I hope the experience has a ripple effect throughout our lives and brings even just a few more people to the side of equality and love.”

I hope so, too, and that it translates not only to wedded bliss but to the resolution of injustice for all.

I also hope the SCOTUS ruling means I get invited to a lot more weddings.

But I’m definitely going to need a bigger purse.

Cross-posted from this week’s Connect Savannah.

Yes, all girls—and boys

(Crossposted from Connect Savannah)

There is no hell more hideous or humid than the soccer fields on an early summer afternoon in the South.

The sun pounds down with a mallet in each fist, destroying any doubt of its supremacy in the universe. The tall pines beyond the fence droop, the grass browns before our eyes. The bloated air heaves itself around like a DMV employee two months from retirement.

Yet the players on the field appear impervious to the blinding swelter. They move like warriors, calculating each pass and kick, snaking the ball around their opponents’ defense to take a shot on the goal. If they fail, they regroup like a pack of wolves and try again. Along the way there might be a push here, a shove there, the occasional elbow to the ribs if the ref isn’t looking.

Who knew 10 year-old girls could be so terrifyingly tough?

Huddled under a pop-up canvas canopy with the other parents, modern Bedouins clad in Rainbow flip-flops and drinking cans of La Croix, I watch my daughter and her teammates with awe. It just never gets old, the unexpected breakaways, the soaring kicks, the balls taken to the chin and shaken off with a gap-toothed smile.

Though raised by a feminist to believe I could be President or an astronaut, I was never quite comfortable with the physical aggression required to be an athlete. At 10, I was busy reading the Judy Blume canon and organizing a union for my paper dolls. The last time I played real soccer was a friendly college dorm match when some freshman from New Mexico slide-tackled me and I limped off to the cafeteria, crying.

But these girls, with their baggy blue uniforms and their coltish legs, they are so fierce, so strong, that it’s difficult to imagine that anything could ever bring them down.

For the moment, at least. They have a few years before they shoulder the societal pressure to be skinny or absorb the subtle messages to downplay their intelligence and power. They haven’t yet had to wonder why their male colleagues make higher salaries for the same work or rebuff the “romantic” advances of assholes who just don’t get it.

Soon enough, though, these girls will become women. Then it becomes a whole new ball game.

The May 23 shootings in Santa Barbara by a 22 year-old spoiled little psychopath have sliced open what has always been a marginalized conversation about gender, revealing the guts of our culture’s pervasive dysfunction around women’s sexuality. Like the haruspex of ancient Rome, we must take the opportunity to divine meaning from the entrails.

Before he took up his weapons, Elliot Rodger blatantly blamed his impending rampage on all the women who wouldn’t have sex with him. Who knows if he even asked them nicely—he felt sure that he was owed their “adoration” and attention, and by “depriving” him of it, they deserved to die.

While this obviously falls under the umbrella of flat-out insanity, many rightfully recognized this as misogyny—a poisonous attitude against women that goes back to the tale of Lilith’s banishment from the Garden of Eden.

Misogyny feels entitled to womens’ servitude and feeds on the fear of female empowerment. It lurks in the dark, dank dungeons of the internet and in CEO offices on the top floors of skyscrapers. It can thrive in street gangs or frat houses. It is Nietzsche, Patrick Bateman and the Taliban.

Misogyny is chauvinism’s more horrible, sadistic older brother. It is what drives village elders to stone a woman to death for accidentally showing her ankle. It is the tasteless skit on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze that features a six-foot tall goon dressed in hideous drag laughing about rape.

Misogyny is at the root of the closure of 50 women’s health clinics in Texas, Arizona and 25 other states in the past three years. It is the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls and the gang rapes of children in India. Misogyny denies humanity. While chauvinism would merely suppress women, misogyny fucking hates them.

This most recent mass shooting gives a small window to stare it straight in the eye before some other tragedy captures our collective attention. While some of us could complain about “the mens” all day long, there really is no societal counterpart. Margaret Atwood describes the differential as “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”

On Twitter, hundreds of thousands of women and a few men have used the hashtag #YesAllWomen to voice their fury and frustration for all that females must fear. Right on cue, a backlash arose via #NotAllMen to dismiss it as the hysterical exaggerations of a bunch of chicks.

The parallel feed/thought process is that not all men harbor that kind of evil, and duh, of course not—not even most men. There are so many fine male role models, the good dads and sweet brothers and loyal friends who love and respect women.

Arguing that only sidetracks the discussion. As the New Statesman’s Laurie Penny writes, “the devil has more than enough advocates today.”

Whether you choose to view Rodger’s terrible act as what Penny calls “misogynistic extremism” or the result of a sick, lonely kid who couldn’t get laid, there is no denying that his attitude towards women—in part created and validated by the cultural tides—figured into it. (It should go without saying that one can be both mentally ill and a misogynist.)

True, over half of Rodger’s victims were male—the misogynistic poison that fueled his violent entitlement harms everyone. As much as objectification hurts girls, boys suffer tremendously from the pressure to find their value in some kind of sexual “score.”

The tragedy in California has no upside, but perhaps it will make us more conscious of the misogynistic tendencies hidden in our language, our beliefs and what we brush aside as mental illness and good ol’ boy traditions. Maybe because of it, my daughter and her teammates will grow up in a fairer, saner, less hateful world. Maybe not.

But as I marvel as my girl bounces the ball from her chest to her foot and sails it down the field, I know I will never quit calling out the poison.

America, the beautiful mess

Civil-Shooz-4This is running in the current Connect Savannah, but I’m reposting it here ’cause I pretty proud of it. Plus, I make a bar mitzvah reference, so it counts.

The Civil Society Column: America, the beautiful mess

Girl, we need to talk.

I know you’re hiding under the covers right now, refusing to do any work and basically shirking all of your responsibilities. I don’t blame you. If I had a bunch of old suits screaming all day long about what they think is best for me while ignoring what I actually have to say about it, I’d break some serious bad, too.

But listen. You’re pushing 238 and it’s time to grow the fuck up.

America, honey, you’re like a Disney Channel star who spent her childhood racking up one success after another: You dumped the shackles of British colonialism and built your own coast-to-coast empire.

You helped bring down Hitler. You were the first to send people to the freakin’ MOON!

Your rebellious years seemed fairly promising, too. You stood up to those meanie Commies and protested the Vietnam War. You shed Old World notions about sex and feminism. You demanded equal rights for minorities while rocking epic bell bottom jeans.

You also started to get kind of rich, which tends to make people a little crazy. Protecting your fortune and your ego became more important than preserving the dignity and well-being of your denizens, and frankly, well, you’ve kind of lost your shit.

While you’ve been taking cross-eyed selfies in the mirror of your collagen lips, corporations have plundered and pillaged almost every one of your natural resources, polluting the oceans and blowing the tops off of your purple mountains majesty. You’re still dicking around with putting cutesy labels on Monsanto’s GMO-tainted amber waves of grain while dozens of other governments have banned them as poison. You have more of your own citizens in jail than anyone, anywhere.

You’re the last in the developed world to provide some kind of guaranteed baseline health care to its citizens, and the latest freakout a certain congressional faction of petulant babies had over THAT has sent you AWOL. And if the suits don’t get it together next week, your credit problems could trigger the economic meltdown of the whole world.

The other countries are starting to notice that you’re unraveling. They really do care about you, but your erratic behavior is causing them to edge away, like Aww, bitch be cray, maybe we should go chill with Venezuela — she got mad oil, and I hear she’s way cooler now that her pimp Hugo is gone.

Your domestic civil discourse has devolved into an obscene game of third grade Telephone as evidenced on your default national news network Twitter, where an educated daughter of successful Indian Americans is derided as an “ugly Arab” and somehow the “real Miss America” could only be an AK47-toting bleach blonde with a giant tattoo on her rib cage. Not that your blondes and tattoos aren’t super hot; they’re just not the ONLY kind of hot. You used to be proud of your melting pot heritage; we’re just as colorful as we’ve always been, baby. What happened?

But, hey, even with your bad taste in TV and your nasty meth problem, I’m still pretty enamored of you.

I happened to be in Washington, DC a couple of weekends ago, right before those Congress dudes shut your whole thing down. We were actually in Maryland for a bar mitzvah, celebrating with a brood of cousins whose ancestors escaped hatred and oppression to forge successful businesses and happy families. It occurred to me that a ballroom full of brilliant and hopeful Jewish kids dancing the dougie is a pretty excellent example of the American dream.

I insisted that we drive our rental car down the wooded Beltway that afternoon so my kids could see in person the architecture of America’s inner workings, your elegant guts. The Washington Monument was cloaked in scaffolding, and we didn’t have time for the Smithsonians or a tour of the Capitol (if I had known I wouldn’t get another chance for a while I might have skipped the cocktail hour.) Our GPS led us straight to the Mall, where Providence somehow provided us a parking space next to the Lincoln Memorial.

In other countries, this magnificent monument would be considered a temple. But it’s not a religious beacon for the gods — it’s a testament to this revolutionary idea of civic life based on our inherent equality as humans, something so important your founding fathers put it in writing. America has never been about what God we pray to or whether we pray at all — your strength has always been in how We the People treat each other.

There’s a reason Lincoln’s legacy will always be part of your legend. Few have led with the same integrity, honesty and willingness to stand up for the rights of everyone. Everyone. All of us. Not just the richest. Or the prettiest. Or the whitest. Or the ones with the most guns.

As Mr. Lincoln gazed down on my small family, I pressed up on the cool marble columns and got all choked up because in spite of all your wrecking ball shenanigans, I am still so honored to call you home.

The following week, while you were holed up in your room catching up on HGTV, to climb the same steps became an act of rebellion. There at the Lincoln Monument, We the People remembered for a minute just who you really are. If my kids and I had been there then, we would have breached those barricades, too.

There are those of us still believe in the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — as well as in a decent education, universal health care and dignity in our daily life. We understand that none of it comes free in this land of freedom, and we’re willing to pay a little more if it means everyone will have enough.

The ones hollering over lost jobs while they collect their fat paychecks, those who would rather asphyxiate you into chaos rather than help your poor and sick, they don’t get you. But we’ve got your back. We can do this. We’ll dry you out, get you some therapy, revive your spirit.

We can insist that the suits act like competent, compassionate adults or they’re fired — they work for us, remember?

We don’t have to eat the toxic swill or buy the cheap crap they’re shilling. We can grow a revolution in our gardens and in our neighborhoods and our minds. We can fend for ourselves and let the suits drown in their own misappropriated greed. We can unite as one nation, indivisible over the promise for liberty and justice for all.

Just wake up, sweetheart. It’s just time to wake up.