Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Allowing gay people to marry won't threaten anyone. Please, U.S. Supreme Court: Do the right thing.

Like most of you, I learned about Brown vs. the Board of Education in school.  Current events incented me to refresh myself on its particulars last night.
For those who have forgotten, the decision reversed the doctrine of “separate but equal” under which the United States had been operating for more than half a century.  The vote against “separate but equal” was 9-0, and in perhaps his most significant decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote:
“To separate [some children] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”
The decision paved the way for changes in the way African Americans were viewed in this country – unfortunately, it took a whole bunch of bloodshed for meaningful changes to take place, and we’re still waiting for things to be truly “equal” for the races that populate our nation.
But, bottom line: The Supreme Court did the right thing in 1954.  Will the justices do the same in 2013?
Wait a minute, you might say; a decision to help pave the way for allowing people who happen to be gay to marry one another can’t be compared to one that prevented a young Kansas girl from having to be bused miles and miles from her home so she could attend school with other children of “her kind.”
My response to you: Sure it can. Read this 1954 Supreme Court rationale, with my substitutions added, and tell me what you think.
“(Disallowing gay people to marry) has a detrimental effect upon the (people in question). The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating (people on the basis of sexual identity) is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the (gay) group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a (gay person) to (thrive). Such (discrimination) with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [adversely impact] the (emotional) development of (gay people) and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a (truly integrated society).”
I’ve written often about my feelings regarding society’s attitudes toward people who happen to be gay. As a teenager and young adult, some of my closest friendships were with young men who were gay and closeted, and I witnessed the pain they went through as they contemplated exposing who they really were to the people they loved most.  Years later, I witnessed the same with a much-loved family member.
And in my opinion – and in the opinions of a majority of Americans – putting anyone through that type of misery is cruel, as being gay is clearly not a choice. It’s 2013, and with all due respect to friends and family members who feel otherwise, this nonsense needs to stop.
I was raised Catholic. I’m not sure exactly what flavor of Christianity I am anymore, but I know I’m a Christian. And I believe in that most basic tenet of the faith: “Love one another as I have loved you.” (“Judge not, lest thou be judged” is a good one, too.)
And while I respect the beliefs of people who feel homosexuality is something to be “healed” or “fixed” – some of whom are as passionate and fervent in their opinions as I am in mine -- I think they’re dead wrong. 
The Old Testament includes a few lines that could be interpreted to mean God really hates homosexuality and would be inclined to punish it in a bad, fiery way. But in the Old Testament, a bunch of other really disturbing things happen as well, and no one is advocating for those to continue.  
And, most importantly to me, Jesus says nothing about homosexuality. Nothing pro, nothing con.  It doesn’t seem to be an issue to him.
And that, in my opinion, is as it should be. Judging someone on the basis of sexual identity is akin to judging a person on the basis of skin color. Or eye color. Or preferred brand of antiperspirant.
Believing homosexuality is a choice makes absolutely no sense: First why would anyone choose to risk the type of discrimination that’s still heaped on people who happen to be gay? And second, I’m heterosexual. And at no time in puberty or adolescence did I get out a yellow legal pad, write “pros” on one side and “cons” on the other, and decide to be straight.
One more curiosity: Because I was born heterosexual, I was allowed to marry, no questions asked, not one but two men I chose (not at the same time, obviously).  Know what else? Most of the gay couples I know have been committed longer than I’ve been married to my current husband or was married to my first.
“Tolerating” gay people is not enough. A person’s sexual identity should not be a factor in denying him or her basic human rights.
And that's the basis of why gay people need to be allowed to marry. A few additonal pluses: It's all about commitment, which is all kinds of positive.  It will further enhance the security of children born to or adopted by gay parents.  And it sure won’t threaten my marriage. Or yours.
Let me leave you with this:
Not all that many years ago, it was illegal in several states for a white person to marry an African-American one. Some religious groups cited scripture in trying to uphold those decisions, too, saying God considered such unions unnatural and sinful.
(Awkward silence.)
Laws can change.
People can change.
Here’s hoping the Supreme Court does the right thing.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Here's to trench coats that fit ... and remembering what's under all of this

When I was a little girl, a woman named Ann Bradford was our next-door neighbor.  Ann was in her 40s and was a matronly woman with a tight perm and polyester clothes.  I was around middle-school age when Ann showed me a picture of herself as a teenager, and I was stunned to see she had been very pretty.

I wondered for a moment why she had allowed her looks to change so drastically, but then I reasoned, "She's grown up and already has a husband and family. She doesn't have to worry about the way she looks anymore."

As much as it pains me to admit it, I've become Ann Bradford.

That's a little harsh -- I still do my hair every day and put on makeup and wear clean clothes that match. I shower daily and have tidy nails.  But when it comes to my weight, I've given up. It hasn't been intentional, but it's happened.

I'm not the 600-pound woman you see on the TLC specials; I can get out of bed, and my fat doesn't hang out of my pants. But my abdomen is huge. My ankles are puffy. My wrists are fat.  And I wear plus-size clothes. The fact that I'm the smallest plus-size the stores carry doesn't matter.  I can no longer shop in the "regular" women's department.

I can't attribute the weight to anything in particular.  I'm happy.  I love my husband, and my kids are doing well. I have a great job, great friends and a supportive extended family. Sure, the past few years have brought their share of stresses; my dad was sick, and then he died.  I had surgery. I changed employers.

And maybe I used all that as license to eat pancakes and bacon and drink pop and sneak Swiss Cake Rolls before bed. Or maybe I just got lazy.

Whatever the case, it's stopping now.  Well, it's stopping Tuesday.  Nothing magic about the timing; I simply woke up one day last week and knew I was ready.

Twenty years ago, I lost 40 pounds. And as much as I loved the result, I think I loved the discipline more. I ate the same thing every day. I cut out pop and most carbs and sugars. I put a mental barrier between my food and everyone else's.  I threw my kids in a double stroller and walked and walked and walked. And as I started treating myself with the respect I deserved, I felt good and happy and at peace.

Out-of-control eating is fun while it's happening.  Going to Viva la Bamba with my husband and inhaling two baskets of chips and not thinking about the consequences is fun until you look down and see the crumbs and realize what you've done. Or until you go to Kohl's to buy a trench coat and can't find one that zips and allows you to move your arms.

My husband has never seen me thin. He met me about 20 pounds ago, and that speaks volumes for him, as I wasn't thin then, either. I want to do this for me, but another part of me -- the part that knows my husband is a great guy who deserves a wife who's not crabby and angry about her weight -- can't wait for his reaction when he sees what I really look like under all of this.

Sure, I want to make a lifestyle change. I want to get off blood-pressure medicine and be around to enjoy grandkids. I want to be the kind of person who routinely reaches for carrots instead of Swiss Cake Rolls, and I want to kick my Mountain Dew habit for good. But for now, I just want to do this. I want the discipline and the control and the results.

I want my kids to be proud of me.  I want to be proud of me.

It's been a long time coming.  I'm a little scared.  But mostly, I feel something has lifted. I'm no longer just stuck.

Here's to seeing what happens next.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

It's one of Iowa's largest, wealthiest cities. But it used to be my little town.

In 1967, this house was on the outskirts of West Des Moines.
Once in a while, if I look out the windows on the west side of the building in which I work, a glimpse of rolling fields and a water tower will take me back to my hometown.
I actually spend my working days here in that hometown, just a few miles south of the houses in which I spent my first two-plus decades. You’d never know it by looking around, though; when I lived in West Des Moines, the area in which I hang my coat now was so far “out in the country” that if I’d happened out this way, I certainly would have gotten lost.
Sometimes, though, if I catch the landscape just right as I heat my burrito or cup of soup, the view out the window is so familiar it takes my breath away.
I was born on Des Moines’ south side, but we moved west in 1967, after my mom passed away.  Our house was the westernmost in the city at that time, on 32nd and Giles streets, and cornfield bordered our yard on two sides; field mice visited our basement regularly and took up residence in the hide-a-bed, and I remember not being allowed to traipse out into those fields to retrieve my kite.
West Des Moines was home to about 14,000 people then, and in my 4-year-old mind, it consisted of the Li’l Red Barn convenience store, where we bought orange Hi-C by the case, and a tiny Dahl’s on Prospect Avenue.  We went to the Catholic church in “old” or “downtown” West Des Moines, but we never would have ventured there after dark; the church was too close to Fifth Street, which was "rough," I was told.
As funny as it seems to me now, as small as it was, West Des Moines seemed lonely then, and it felt right to a small, lonely girl.  It had discarded its “Valley Junction” moniker less than 30 years before and was still undergoing an identity shift from hardscrabble railroad town to the shiny place it became in the ‘70s. I looked west from our little house, and everything before me seemed very large.
The city quickly ate up all that largeness, though; three years later, we moved two blocks to the west and again, our house was the westernmost home in the city. My world expanded to include my school, Kiburz Drug Store and a few other places, and “old” West Des Moines -- despite its proximity to the dreaded Fifth Street -- was warm and welcoming as I began to make friends at school with girls who lived there. I’d occasionally be invited to their homes, and we’d walk to Legion Park to play on the swings.
Fifth Street itself, though, with its music and mayhem, was still off-limits. After hearing someone use the term “ladies of the evening” in conjunction with the area, I asked my very proper grandmother what that meant.  She sputtered a bit, then told me they were “girls who get all dressed up and go on dates with lots of men.”  I thought that sounded like a fine thing to be able to see.
I must have been in first or second grade when my city truly began to grow up. Thirty-fifth Street , the gravel road Valley High School sat on, received a thick coat of black tar, and then the pavement came. The late-night drag-racing stopped, and new homes – four-bedroom two-stories, all – sprung up between our place on 34thand Brookview and the brand-new freeway.  And Northwestern Bell brought our city its very own newfangled telephone prefix: “225,” which was long confused with Des Moines’ “255” and resulted in years upon years of misdialed numbers.
Retail excitement came in the form of a whole new mall when I was 12; I begged for Levi 501 corduroy pants from County Seat and Earth Shoes from Baker’s.   We moved again, a few blocks east this time, to a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood; a boy at school made me cry by telling me, “My parents said they can’t believe your parents spent $90,000 on a house.”
My friends and I hung out at Skate West and partnered with sweaty-palmed boys for the Couples in the Moonlight skate. We wore new bikinis to Holiday Pool and held onto our tops as we jumped off the low diving board. We bought cherry-coated vanilla cones from Dairy Queen on 19th Street begged to be allowed to eat – “just kids, no parents” – at the Pizza Hut on Grand.
I kissed a neighbor boy in a house under construction; it was nothing at that time to sneak into one after dark because our city was growing up even more, and new houses were everywhere.  I remember the smell of the wood and the thrill of the late hour – maybe 9:45 on a school night? He gave me a necklace with the Virgin Mary on it and a mood ring, and we still have lunch once in a while, that West Des Moines boy and me. I just ran into his wife and gave her a big hug last weekend.
Around the time I was wearing corduroys and mood rings, Fifth Street stopped being off-limits; I was a Betty Hill dancer, and we bought our tights and leotards at a magical place Betty owned. The Theatrical Shop smelled like new tap shoes and stage makeup, and if “ladies of the evening” still hung out down there, at least they had somewhere handy to buy their feather boas.
High school came, and with it my driver’s license and the opportunity to explore my little town via Chevy station wagon.  I became interested in photography and drove “way out into the country” – 50th and Ashworth – to find barns to photograph. Dahl’s grew larger, and new grocery stores opened “out west.”  We watched new subdivisions crop up, each one more exclusive than the last, until finally, a gated community came to town. 
By the time I was charged with raising my own kids, random circumstances had landed me in another part of town, and I put down roots there. But my work and extended family bring me back to West Des Moines most days of the week, so I’ve never really missed it.
But on days like this one, when I look out the office window and see open space, I remember. I’m far less small now, and far less lonely.  But in my mind’s eye, there are cornfields on two sides of me, and I’m trying to keep my kite from falling into the tall, tall stalks as I think about behaving well enough to be taken to the Red Barn to buy an Archie comic book.
And I’ll fall asleep reading it, at home in my small town, to the sound of drag-racers revving their engines on the gravel of 35th Street.