[Name] is (a lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender). There are X days until National Coming Out Day and I pledge to have heartfelt conversations for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. Donate your status and join me by clicking here: http://apps.facebook.com/equalityconversation/.
I didn't donate my status -- for one, I rarely do apps, since I like my privacy -- but I did post one or two status updates to this effect.
I'm always surprised when people who know me at all well are surprised to find out I'm a lesbian. It's less startling, but still frustrating, when people are surprised I'm bi, because there's still an assumption of monosexuality in this culture: either you're homosexual or you're heterosexual. Folks who are startled to learn I'm bi either know I've had successful romantic relationships with men and assume those are invalid now (because I must be monosexual), or assume that because I have been involved only with women since they've known me and am not that interested in men, I must be monosexual.
But those are still the conversations I more or less expect to have. The kind where I refer to my partner or spouse in conversation at an event, the other person asks what my husband does, and I say, "My wife is a mathematician," and they blink. The kind where someone I've known for a long time says in shock, "You had a husband!?," and I say, "Yes, my first partner was male, and yes, I was out before we got together. He took me to my first Pride event."
But these conversations have progressed and changed over time. For example, more and more over the last few years, the conversations I've been having around the fact that I'm a lesbian center around civil rights, and especially marriage equality.
And while there's one little thread on my Facebook Wall about National Coming Out Day and how people identify and what labels mean (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer), there's another, completely different, conversation I've ended up having about the reality of my life as a lesbian in today's society.
And it really does feel like a coming-out conversation: Here is my reality. Here is the truth of my experience.
And as with many other such conversations over the years, I'm finding someone I'm talking with disbelieves the uncomfortable truth.
This person isn't a bigot. They seem to be a well-meaning straight person, but someone who just doesn't want to believe the discrimination I live with every day is as bad as I say -- that their legally-sanctioned heterosexual privilege is, in fact, just that.
(All names changed but mine; all quotes paraphrased except where indicated.)
The conversation has gone something like this:
- Friend A posts to their Facebook status that they're grateful to the marriage equality movement for helping them understand how many rights and privileges go with legal marriage [which this person has].
Conversation ensues in the comment thread, and then it gets interesting:
- Person B: I thought it was just the death tax that can't be addressed in a contract; what other rights can't they have?; of course anyone should marry whomever they want!; isn't Toys R Us great, they give domestic partners full health insurance.
- Person C: Oh, no, there's the whole hospital visitation thing; do you want to wrangle with a resistant family member in order to say goodbye to a dying partner?
- Person B: Wrong! If you have a living will and a signed and notorized agreement, the family can't keep you away!
- Person C: Uh-huh. So, my husband's in the hospital, and I have to dig out my legal paperwork before I go to the hospital?; in my case, take the bus home from work, find the paperwork, and drive back into town, when on top of it I'm probably not safe to drive?; assuming we've gone to the expense and trouble of getting such paperwork?; oh, and by the way, because we're an opposite-gender couple, they're not going to ask us for a copy of our marriage license, and we're in less need of powers of attorney and living wills, because we're legally married.
- Person B: Gosh, it's really awful when family members are jerks, and I'm really sorry for anyone who has to deal with that; but you do kind of know what you're getting into; spending $100 on a contract is nothing at all for the peace of mind it gives you, and of course if I had to do that, I'd know exactly where my paperwork is; so what else are the issues?, I know there aren't a lot of people who have to worry about taxes on huge estates.
If you're not legally married, which NO same-gender couples are on a federal level, you have to pay income taxes on your health insurance, b/c it's a taxable benefit.
I can't collect my wife's social security if she dies first.
Health care powers of attorney aren't enforceable everywhere. There was a Seattle woman who died ALONE in FL when the hospital refused to honor the couple's legal paperwork - and her kids couldn't say goodbye, b/c the hospital also refused to honor the adoption.
It doesn't matter how much money we spend on legal paperwork: it's not the same protection.
Imagine that every time you move, you have to get divorced and then re-married in your new town, county, or state. And that benefits that depend on the date you get married got re-set every single time.
Imagine that in addition to that, every time you move, you have to re-do your will, living will, and financial and health care powers of attorney, b/c getting remarried doesn't cover everything.
Imagine that if you get married and move, and then want to get divorced, you have to move back to the original state for a year first.
The NY Times had several good articles recently:
9/10/03/your-money/03money .html?_r=1&hp=&pagewanted= all
- Person B (with lots of exclamation points): But everyone pays taxes on health insurance, regardless of who their partner is!
- Person C: Stasa, I figured you'd be up on this kind of stuff; and what about the Seattle woman whose partner died when their house flooded, and even with a sympathetic family and good state laws, she had to get permission from the family?; why should anyone who's willing to make this commitment have to jump through these hoops?; why should it matter who your partner is?; I have heterosexual privilege, and that's not fair; my adult child does not; this is wrong.
- Person D: It's ridiculous what people have to go through; it makes me ill; this is unfair and wrong; it's time to change the law.
- Me (direct quote):
Person B, there definitely is a difference. My health insurance through my partner is taxed very differently than my health insurance was through my former employer.
Employer contributions to health insurance premiums are NOT counted as taxable income for workers whose coverage includes themselves, legal spouses, or dependents. As soon as you add a non-dependent adult -- such as a domestic partner -- that person's health insurance benefit becomes taxable income.
My family most certainly *does* have a higher tax burden for my health insurance than if my partner and I could be married legally, or if I had insurance through an employer -- because my health insurance counts as taxable income. (We even get a separate little income statement for it.)
Person B, you said, "...what you were dealing with 100 dollars at most for your well being is nothing..." First off, $100 is out of reach for a lot of people. Secondly, $100 buys you NOTHING in terms of legal paperwork and protection. This kind of paperwork, if it's going to stand up in court, starts at thousands of dollars if there's ANY property or any children involved. And court comes AFTER the shit hits the fan, and your partner or kid is in the hospital and you're not being allowed to see them or make medical decisions for them. For way too many of us, court comes after our partner or kid is *dead*. And *that* is discrimination at work.
Person C, I'm particularly up to my eyeballs in this crap right now (which you probably know), since we just moved and are in the process of registering our civil union with the state.
Okay, folks, if all the other paperwork does the trick, and legal, civil marriage doesn't matter, then I'm sure every heterosexual legally married couple in the country would be just fine with not being legally married but getting to do all the other paperwork instead.
- Person B: But your child is your child; no one can change that; even if you adopt, that is the same for everyone; health care is always taxable income, it's about how your employer sets it up not about your "legal status"; "I am sorry but you are very wrong!"
- Person A: This is a great discussion!; what else do folks think?
- Me (direct quote):
Bullshit. I wish I was wrong. Tell me I'm wrong when you've lived my life, paid my taxes, and dealt with what I deal with every day. Believe me, I'm much more aware of my legal rights on a daily basis than you could possibly be.
Tell us we're wrong to all those parents in MI whose legal right to their children is now in jeopardy b/c second parent adoptions may now be invalid and illegal. Tell it to the kids in FL who were kept out of their mother's room while she was dying b/c they had two moms, legally, and the hospital refused to recognize them as her kids. Tell it to the IRS if I don't pay income tax on the insurance premium my partner's employer pays.
Person B, if you are legally married to an opposite-gender partner, and you get health insurance through your husband's employer, you do NOT pay income tax on the portion of the premium that his employer pays. That's a fact. It's the law. It has NOTHING to do with how an employer sets it up and everything to do with legal rights you have that I don't.
And if you still don't believe me, do some of your own research instead of just telling me I'm wrong. Google "taxable health insurance."
Person A, thanks for starting this conversation!
- Person B: In NJ and MN, we absolutely pay taxes on health insurance!; "I don't know what planet you live on" but we pay taxes on insurance for our kids.
- Person C: I've never gotten a separate income statement for my spouse's insurance, b/c it's included in the regular W2; has anyone else?; so how can we say Stasa's wrong when she's the one with the experience with this?; you're only your child's legal parent if your state recognizes the adoption, and if your state doesn't recognize gay adoption or second parent adoption, you are up the creek; these are inequalities that shouldn't exist, and no one should have to pay more than someone else for equal protection under the law anyway; why would anyone be okay with this?; this is discrimination.
- Person B: I agree, but you still have to pay taxes; unless the family of origin is totally horrible, why would a kid be prevented from visiting?
- Person C: "Person B, have you read any of the articles Stasa posted?"; I don't know why anyone would keep a child away, but it *does* happen; it happened this year; it doesn't have to be a family, it can be a nurse who decides they don't like gay people; it can happen, it does happen, it's wrong; and sure, you can go to court afterwards, when it's too late; same problem with living wills; family or hospital decides not to honor it, they don't honor it; also, remember there's a difference between state and federal income tax, and make sure you're comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges.
A couple of things really got me about this conversation:
One is Person B's complete unwillingness to believe the truth of my experience when it doesn't match their experience, or what they think. Of course it doesn't match their experience: they have heterosexual privilege. This person isn't living their life as a lesbian, trying to protect themselves and their family. I am also reminded of the bumper sticker, "Don't believe everything you think." For years, my reaction was, How random. But, really: just because you think it, doesn't make it true. Just because you think $100 gets someone else equal protection under the law, just because you think I don't pay more taxes than you do, does not make those things true. (But gosh, what if it was! My life would certainly be easier.)
Two is that I am grateful to straight allies, and queer folks in legal opposite-gender marriages, who stand up for the truth.
Three is, how amazing are folks who don't want to see their privilege. I've mostly dealt with this in the context of sexism ("Of course women in my company are paid the same as men") and racism ("Of course I'm comfortable when Black people come into my store"). I've dealt with it some in heterosexism ("I don't care what you do in the bedroom, but do you have to flaunt it by holding hands?"), religious discrimination ("Of course she can wear a cross, but people will be uncomfortable if you wear a pentagram"), and other kinds of discrimination. I know I have my own blind spots.
But it's been a while since I went toe-to-toe (keyboard-to-keyboard?) with someone who just plain doesn't believe me about the everyday reality of my life in quite this way.
So my tiny little mind is blown again.
And that's the conversation about equality that I had for National Coming Out Day.