When toddlers attack

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

And a big מזל טוב and FELICIDADES to Amani and Bob!

They welcomed their beautiful son Toby into the world Tuesday.

Through multiple attempts and disappointments, you've been an example of persistence and good humor.

Much happiness! You deserve it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Take that, haters

Nearly two years ago, the two of us joined 18,000 other gay and lesbian couples who tied the knot in California. Okay, actually, we did it in Spain and we had it planned before a lawsuit by three very effective civil rights organizations made it legal where we actually lived, but still -- we were part of very heady summer.

Comprehensive domestic partnership, providing essentially all the rights and responsibilities of marriage without the name, has been legal in the state since 2005. We registered in 2007, when A needed to add me to the vision insurance plan he receives through his employer. The process works like this: you go stand in line at the Secretary of State's office in between the man opening a muffler shop and the woman opening a nail salon. You fill turn in a couple of notarized forms that you share a residence and expenses and have been together for at least six months, sit for twenty minutes or so in a fiberglass chair that screams "institutional," and the clerk returns with a certificate of domestic partnership on heavy paper and a lovely embossed official seal of the State of California (which features a giant amazon queen and a tiny grizzly bear -- I've never been sure if the bear is supposed to be tiny or in the very near foreground), "suitable for framing." A handshake, and you're on you're way to the rest of your life, just like that. It's about as romantic as the Department of Motor Vehicles, but more efficient.

The day we "DPed," we were joined by my mom, my aunt and their cousin Anita for a brunch in West Hollywood. It was pleasant, but suffice it to say no one calls to congratulate us on the anniversary of our domestic partnership. We don't remember the date ourselves.

Flash forward a year to our wedding: with the dollar at its weakest in years against the euro and airfares nearly double what they'd been the summer before, 15 of our friends and my family made the trip to Europe; 50 of A's family were on hand. And even though nobody would have admitted to treating us differently beforehand, after the wedding it was obvious our standing as a couple had increased in everyone's eyes, from A's dad saying to me "Yeso! (he can't pronounce my name, so this is a close Spanish approximation. It happens to mean "plaster"), ahora eres parte de la familia" ("now you're part of the family") to the total strangers having a picnic on the beach who yelled "que vivan los novios!" when we passed on the sand, dressed in suits, to have our photo taken by the waves. No one knows what civil unions are, but marriage means something universal. Sure, like civil unions or domestic partnerships, it's a civil contract between two people that you'll take care of each other, assume each other's debts, and inherit each other's property... but unlike those other arrangements, it carries an enormous significance to society at large that you and your partner constitute a family.


That's why it's been so interesting to watch backers of Proposition 8, where seven million Californians voted to divorce the two of us and bar any other lesbian and gay couples from civil marriage, as they come up with different reasons for why two men or two women marrying will cause grown men to weep, horses to spook and bunnies to eat their young (they failed at divorcing the already married couples). During the campaign itself, it was "WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?!?," where they successfully convinced 52 percent of voters that allowing us to marry would confer the message to their children that we're basically okay as human beings. Then, their best argument seems to have been "we don't know." What sort of horrors will befall society if Adam and Steve can marry? It's an experiment! We just DON'T KNOW!"

That argument didn't go over so well when they recently tried it on Judge Vaughn Walker in Perry v. Schwarzenegger the federal legal challenge to Prop 8 that wrapped up last week. So then they tried the "no one will have babies if we weaken the link between marriage and procreation" thing.

This was Ted Olson's response, just posted on the website of the American Foundation for Equal Rights:

The Supreme Court has said in -- I counted 14 cases
going back to 1888, 122 years. And these are the words of all
of those Supreme Court decisions about what marriage is. And I
set forth this distinction between what the plaintiffs have
called it and what the Supreme Court has called it.
The Supreme Court has said that: Marriage is the
most important relation in life. Now that's being withheld
from the plaintiffs. It is the foundation of society. It is
essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness. It's a right of
privacy older than the Bill of Rights and older than our
political parties. One of the liberties protected by the Due
Process Clause. A right of intimacy to the degree of being
sacred. And a liberty right equally available to a person in a
homosexual relationship as to heterosexual persons. That's the
Lawrence vs. Texas case.
Marriage, the Supreme Court has said again and again,
is a component of liberty, privacy, association, spirituality
and autonomy. It is a right possessed by persons of different
races, by persons in prison, and by individuals who are
delinquent in paying child support.
It is the right of individuals, not an indulgence
dispensed by the State of California, or any state, to favored
classes of citizens which could easily be withdrawn if the
state were to change its mind about procreation. In other
words, it is a right belonging to Californians, to persons. It
is not a right belonging to the State of California.
And the right to marry, to choose to marry, has never
been conditioned on or tied to procreation. It hardly could be
rooted in the state's interest in procreation, since the right
to marry, in Supreme Court cases, has been invoked sustaining
the right to contraceptives, to divorce, and just a few years
ago in that Lawrence case, to homosexuals.

Take that, haters.

For a look at the full transcript of closing arguments, go here: http://www.equalrightsfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Perry-Vol-13-6-16-10-Amended.pdf

Monday, June 21, 2010

A belated Father's Day

"It's Fathers Day," my mom told me on Sunday.

"I don't have a father," I said, ever the curmudgeon. But I'm not, not really. Of course I have a father... it's just, well, that he's dead.

We've never been a family to mince words. While other people say "he passed" in hushed tones, we've always said DEAD. D-E-A-D. A coworker of mine in Sacramento once asked offhandedly if my parents were coming up from L.A. for Christmas. "Well, my mom is," I said. "I suppose she could bring my dad... I mean, he doesn't take up much space in the little urn and all. I suppose we could put some holly around him and use him as a centerpiece."

"Oh god, I'm sorry, I didn't..."

He was so genuinely embarrassed that it was my turn to feel bad. But my dad would have guffawed.

Jokes aside, I miss my dad a lot. He died of lung cancer in January, 2000. I was working in Vermont at the time, and attended a reporting seminar in Florida a week or two after his diagnosis in April of 1999. Happy Fathers Day, Dad. I'm sorry you never got to meet the wonderful man I share my life with. I'm sorry you'll never meet your grandkids.

I wrote this as part of the seminar.

Looking for Marion

I stand in the Hilton's lobby, pen in hand, and dial Los Angeles.


"Hi, Mom."

My voice ricochets off the cold marble.

"Hi. Sweetheart."

"How's Dad?"

For two weeks, it's been the question preoccupying both my mother and me.

"Oh, he's fine, I guess... he's having toast and a poached egg."

My mother can't say he's fine without a catch in her voice. "Would you like to talk to him?"


I hear her fumbling with the phone, then my dad picks up.

"Hi, Jase."

"Hi, Dad. How you doing?"

The question sounds casual, but it's not.

"Oh shit, I feel all right," he says.

Sixty years on the West Coast and an actor's vocal training still haven't smoothed over the last traces of his hardscrabble, Down East accent.

He's quick to change the subject.

"How's your class going?"

"It's great," I say. "Listen, I'm figuring as long as I'm here, I'll try to talk to Marion."

Marion Fogg and my dad have never met. In fact, she's barely aware he exists. In most families, you would probably call her my dad's stepmother. Not in mine.

"Really? That's great. I don't think she wants to talk to us, though"

He tells me that's why he didn't keep her address and phone number, but tells me she lives in a place called Sun City.

I'd seen it on maps before, during the two years I lived in Florida -- a semi-circular blip between Tampa and Sarasota, just off 1-75. I always imagined a grand trailer park, something ala the movie Cocoon, perhaps.

"Call me tonight," my dad says. "Let me know how it goes."

My mom comes back on. "When you talk to Marion," she says quietly, no longer within earshot of my dad, I sense, "tell her he's dying."

I head my rented car over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, touching down in Manatee County. From there, the road heads east, through orange groves and palmetto scrub, finally joining up with 1-75.

Someone gave my dad Marion's name online. He was looking for anything on his father, Cassius William Fogg. My dad thinks she's his fourth wife, though his father was still on his third when they parted ways. It wasn't amicable.

"Last time I saw the f---er, I beat the shit out of him," he'd told me. He doesn't like to talk about it.

My dad spent his childhood moving from his mother, to foster homes, to his paternal grandmother, back to foster homes. When his father did make an appearance, often as not it was to deliver a beating. My dad returned the favor at age 18, then legally changed his name to his mother's maiden name.

That was in 1939. My dad doesn't know where his family is buried. He doesn't know who his family was in life, for that matter. Doctors say he has six months to find the answers.

My dad has inoperable lung cancer.

Green highway signs point out the way to Sun City.

Sun City has its own exit.

Sun City has its own boulevard, stretching off to the flat horizon in palm-lined magnificence.

My dad told me Marion works in the clubhouse, so I look for the glorified trailer I'd imagined, possibly surrounded by shuffleboard courts and crones in blue or pink stretch pants.

Instead I see what looks more like a pink stucco palace, complete with Corinthian columns and its own guardhouse. I park and head up a path toward a door marked "Sun City Information." The air smells of cedar chips and geraniums.

I ask the two 20-something receptionists if they've heard of Marion Fogg. "Um... no? Does she work at Northfield Clubhouse?"

"There's more than one?" I ask.

It turns out Sun City has no fewer than three clubhouses. The pink palace served geriatric blue bloods. Pebble Beach North and South were for the plebeians.

I get directions and join the flow of champagne and pearl-colored Cadillacs and Town Cars on Sun City Boulevard. The street is lined with offces of orthopedic surgeons and hairdressers.

I head north on Pebble Beach Boulevard, past other streets named for golf courses, past tanned and fit looking septuagenarians in golf carts, and come to a low stucco clubhouse.

A plump woman in a pantsuit is walking out of the building. I park quickly, and run across the street, catching up with her, expecting to be arrested at any minute.

"Excuse me.. could you tell me where to find Marion Fogg?"

"Yes," she says, "but not after 2."

I check my watch. 4:15.

"But she works here?" I ask.

"Oh sure. She handles all the contractors for the development here. She's very highly regarded. Are you a contractor?"

How much do I tell her?

"No," I start to fumble, "I guess you could call her my dad's stepmother, but I don't think she knows it."

He had tried to call her once before. He explained who he was, that he knew she was the widow of Cassius Fogg. She told him her husband had no children. And hung up.

"Oh," pantsuit lady says. "Well, you can check in there, but I'm almost positive she's gone home. She's listed, though."

I thank her and head inside.

Marion's name is on an offfice door, but it's locked.

An old phone hangs on the wall. It's vintage 1975, one of those gimmicky things with huge pushbuttons, like something you'd find in the Brady house. A phone book hangs underneath.

Marion is listed.

I dial, my heart in my throat, though I'm not sure why.

It rings.

It rings again.

There's a click, then a machine picks up. Damn.

"Hello, this is Marion."

Her Yankee accent makes my dad sound like a Valley Girl. It's thicker than winter ice on the Androscoggin.

"I'm not home right now, but please leave a message. I'll call you back as soon as I can."

Sure she will.

What do I say now?

"Uh... Mrs. Fogg. My name is Jason."

Without my little reporter's badge to hide behind, this isn't easy. This is personal.

"I think you spoke with my dad before," I continue. "I'm in St. Petersburg for a seminar, and found myself in the Sun City area, so I figured I'd try to get hold of you."

What a load of shit.

"My dad told me he spoke with you before, and he says he's sorry if he scared you. But we think your husband was my dad's father. I know this is probably a shock to you, and you may not believe any of this, but I'd sure appreciate it if you could give me a call."

I leave my phone number, and decide I'll try her in person. The phone book lists her address as 1301 New Bedford Avenue.

I have no idea where that is and head out blindly. I head south on Pebble Beach, past Sun City Boulevard, and head smack into a neighborhood full of streets named for New England ports. New Bedford is the second cross street.

I count down addresses, starting at 1400.

I see the little sign reading "Fogg" from a block away.

Marion lives in a pale blue stucco duplex. There's a lawn, but little greenery other than a few sunburnt azaleas gasping for life near the front door. Two plastic chairs sit on the small porch. The blinds are tightly drawn against the bright sun.

I knock on the door, my heart pounding. I wait. The neighborhood is absolutely quiet. I imagine old ladies peeking out through curtains across the street. I imagine a cruiser pulling up any minute. I ring the doorbell.


I walk back to the car, still looking around nervously for flashing blue lights.

I make another half-hearted attempt a half-hour later. She's still not home.

I reluctantly head back onto Sun City Boulevard to the interstate, and follow the signs to Tampa.

I'll call her tonight, I tell myself.

Maybe my dad can still get his story.

Copyright © The Poynter Institute, 801 Third Street S., St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

Well, he never did get his story. When I finally did get her on the phone, she said "my husband had no children!" and hung up on me. "Send her some photos," my mom suggested, so we did -- me, my dad, and one of Cassius. That got me a call from her attorney, saying he'd get a restraining order if I contacted her again.

Ah, family.

Actually, I'm grateful I didn't have to grow up a little gay boy with the last name of "Fogg." Things were bad enough.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Medieval bugs

Ever come back from vacation needing another vacation?  A week ago I returned from accompanying Adrián on his annual pilgrimage to visit his family.  This year we took my mom for added fun, with the goal of taking her to the South of France. The plan was to land in Madrid, spend that day resting, then pick up a rental car and drive to a little town in the Pyrenees just across the French border.  It looked like a good idea on paper.  It even looked like a good idea on Google Maps.  But you know what?  It's a whole lot of driving.  We didn't get to our hotel until 10:30 at night.  And that was pretty much the pattern for the rest of the trip. The next day, we stopped at a little mountain farm and for some reason bought a kilo of Pyrenean cheese (is it just me or does that sound dirty?), which we then schlepped across about 2000 kilometers, lovingly storing it in the fridge at our hotel in Arles, where we spent three days.  Arles is very interesting, packed with Roman ruins... and it turned out we just about killed my mom by making her walk from amphitheater to theater to forum to baths.  Then, horses and flamingoes in the Camargue,  bad bouillabaisse in Marseilles (where I made her cry because I was grouchy),  Barcelona (okay, we actually had a good time there, though we forgot the cheese at the hotel.  I hope they enjoyed it)!  Finally, Alicante to see Adrián's family, then up at four a.m. to get her to Madrid on time for her noon flight back to the States.And then, because in the planning stages it seemed like an excellent idea but ended up more in the "what were we thinking" category, we headed to Marrakech for three days, Adrián barely recovered from a stomach virus, me about to fall victim. But here, in keeping with the theme of the blog, is a fabulous cellphone video of our visit to the ruins of El Badi palace.  If you listen, you can hear the muezzin at a nearby mosque and the resident storks (look hard, you'll spot their nests) clattering their beaks.

But in spite of the delicate state of his entrails, Adrián was none the worse for wear after supposedly finding a bug in his soup at a stall in the plaza Jemaa el Fna. He was funny. I make brilliant observations like "I hear a cat" or "ooh, the light!" Yeah, and I spent 12 years as a TV reporter.

It's in Spanish. Here's a translation:

J: Adrián, you want to say something to me?
A: I ate a bug in the plaza, but it was really good...
J: Yeah? (He, of course, let me finish my soup after finding the alleged bug)
A: ...it had a very traditional flavor.
J: Flavor of what?
A: Flavor of... I don't know, but it was very traditional, very ancient, almost from the middle ages. It was a bug from the middle ages.
J: I hear a cat but I don't see it. (Are cats halal? Maybe that was the "chicken" in my tagine.)
J: And what else, besides that?
A: (Yawning) I'm having a lot of fun, all of this is really interesting, it's an incredible culture, and, well, I don't imagine it's the last time we'll come ('cause, you know, he's having so much fun). Look, a dog. (Because it's not like there's anything else to look at on the plaza)
J: A Moroccan dog. (I am on FIRE with the witty observations! Did I mention I used to be a TRAVEL reporter?)
A: The only dog I've seen. (Uh oh... are dogs halal? Maybe THAT'S what's in the tagine!)
J: (Turning camera on self) Well, I don't know what to say either... ooh, the light! But, uh, yeah, it's very interesting and ... yeah, that.

So, thanks to our leaving the real camera under the seat of our rental car, THIS is the only record of our trip. Maybe that's a good thing.

Let me know if you run across an errant third of a wheel of cheese.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Live online coverage of the federal Prop 8 trial

Not surprisingly, child-rearing is central to the questioning. Defense attorney Charles Cooper has been attempting to argue that procreation is central to the institution of marriage, and that allowing same-sex couples to marry would weaken that connection, which would hurt children.  Towards the end of the day, Judge Walker finally asked whether the 37,000 Californian children being raised by same-sex couples don't also have a right to that security:

American Foundation for Equal Rights

Monday, June 14, 2010

Un poco más comprensivo

I read this waiting for a plane the other day in the print edition of El País on the last day of my so-called vacation.  It's the most sympathetic portrait I've seen to date of a surrogate mother in a Spanish-language publication (albeit in the US, not in India), and the first to mention that the most often-used term "madre de alquiler" (rent-a-mom) is, shall we say, a bit offensive.  It also has a good summation at the bottom of how Spanish law basically discriminates against gay male IPs.  


"No gesté a los niños por dinero"

Una 'madre de alquiler' y su marido explican por qué se han prestado a tener dos hijos para otros - La práctica está prohibida en España, pero es legal en EE UU

EMILIO DE BENITO - Madrid - 12/06/2010
"No lo haría gratis, pero tampoco lo hice por dinero". Myriam Reynolds, estadounidense de 39 años (aunque nacida en México), habla con energía y simpatía de su decisión de ser -dos veces- lo que coloquialmente se llama madre de alquiler, un término que ella rechaza de plano y que prefiere cambiar por el de gestante subrogada o sustitutiva.
Sentada en un salón del hotel, Reynolds se muestra divertida según va desmontando los prejuicios que se pueden tener sobre ella. "Soy muy normal", dice, mirando a su marido, Robert Wright, seis meses más joven y nacido en Filadelfia, que se sienta junto a ella. Él, más afectado por el trastorno horario del vuelo que les ha traído a Madrid desde Colorado, asiente. La pareja -ella, psicóloga; él, enfermero- son padres de dos niñas, de cinco y seis años y medio. A los otros dos bebés que ha gestado, Reynolds se resiste a llamarlos hijos. "No lo son, no tienen mis óvulos ni su esperma", afirma convencida, contradiciendo totalmente la regulación española, que establece que la madre es la que lleva a cabo la gestación, independientemente del origen de los gametos.
La historia empezó hace cuatro años, cuando se enteró de que una amiga suya, desesperada porque no podía ser madre, estaba buscando ayuda. "Yo lo haré por ti. Tengo mucha facilidad para quedarme embarazada", le dijo. Su amiga insistió en que todo se hiciera de una manera conforme a las leyes del Estado, con todos los papeles, contrato incluido. Sabía de qué hablaba: trabajaba en una clínica de fecundación asistida y conocía el procedimiento, que es legal en la mayoría de EE UU desde 1986. "Estaba sufriendo mucho, y tenía una conexión personal con ella, así que se lo dije a Robert y él me dijo que adelante, que no tenía inconveniente".
Estados Unidos -y no todo- es de los pocos países donde hubiera podido hacerlo. También en India, Reino Unido, Grecia y Ucrania. En la mayoría de los occidentales, España incluida, la práctica está prohibida. Algo que Reynolds, "sinceramente", no entiende.
Porque a ella aquella historia le resultó tan "gratificante" que acabó trabajando para la agencia Circle Surrogacy, que es la que les ha traído a España para unos seminarios (hoy en Madrid, mañana en Barcelona) sobre gestación subrogada. Ahí se dedica a hacer asesoría con los grupos de mujeres que van a ser futuras madres sustitutivas. Lo que le permite generalizar a partir de su caso.
"La mayoría son mujeres como yo, licenciadas o incluso con másteres que están en la treintena, que ya han tenido los hijos que quieren para formar una familia. Eso de que se trata de drogadictas o marginales es mentira. De hecho, una de las condiciones que les ponen en la agencia es que tengan sus ingresos, que no lo hagan por el dinero", dice de un tirón.
Eso sí, tampoco se arredra para explicar que no lo haría gratis. "El dinero ayuda. Da claridad a la relación con los padres. A nosotros nos ha permitido tener una casa mejor, o, por lo menos, pagarla más fácilmente", indica. "¿No cobras tú por tu trabajo, por mucho que te guste? ¿No lo hacen los médicos, los profesores, los enfermeros? Aunque su trabajo sea tan bonito como salvar vidas, también lo hacen por dinero. Pues es lo mismo. Además, el proceso es largo y molesto, tienen que pincharte durante dos semanas, pierdes días de trabajo durante el embarazo y después del parto. Lo justo es que te paguen", insiste.
Al llegar a este punto, Reynolds rehúsa decir cuánto cobró ella. "La tarifa está entre 18.000 y 25.000 dólares [15.000 y 21.000 euros]". A lo que hay que sumar el coste del tratamiento de inseminación in vitro (otros 25.000 euros), los gastos médicos de la mujer y la comisión de la agencia. Total, más de 100.000 euros. "Fue un negocio, pero uno de los más gratificantes. Los padres se quedan felices, y nosotros también".
Que se lo digan a Jordi y Vicent, una pareja española que está en el hotel con su hijo de un año. El último que ha tenido Reynolds. La mujer reconoce el cariño que se tienen, pero no duda en que el hijo no es suyo, sino -"a pesar de lo que digan las leyes españolas"- de ellos. Como prueba, Reynolds y su marido mantienen una tremenda tranquilidad cuando el niño alborota: "Que lo cuiden sus padres", dicen medio riéndose.
No se trata de un comentario desde la frialdad. "Desde el principio tenía claro que no era mi hijo. A las otras madres del grupo les ha pasado lo mismo. Solo un par de veinteañeras, cuando dieron a luz, se dieron cuenta de que solo tenían un hijo y de que querían otro. Pero otro, de ella y su marido, no ese", cuenta Reynolds.
Su marido admite que, después de dos niñas, cuando vio que nacía un varón pensó en probar suerte otra vez. "Pero no. Nuestra familia ya está completa. Nuestras dos hijas tienen mucha personalidad, son muy activas y en nuestra casa ya hay suficiente follón", dice Reynolds, que lleva la voz cantante.
La mujer aporta otra visión de lo que ha hecho: "Nuestra familia es multirracial y, de alguna manera, ayudar a esta pareja de gays a tener un hijo que deseaban tanto es otra manera de comprometernos, de contribuir a la sociedad con nuestro ejemplo. Tenemos amigos que lo han pasado muy mal por no poder tener hijos. Si podemos ayudar a que alguien sea feliz, a que se vea que los gays pueden ser padres y las lesbianas, madres, estaremos contentos".
Por eso está tan orgullosa de que sus hijas hayan entendido que el último embarazo no iba a acabar dándoles un hermanito. "Ellas lo sabían, como todos a nuestro alrededor. Y lo entienden. Es parte de su crecimiento, como haber aprendido, al conocer a Jordi y a Vicent, que dos hombres, o dos mujeres, se pueden querer y casar".

Pendientes del Registro Civil

En España, la ley de reproducción asistida prohíbe, desde su primera redacción en 1988, la gestación subrogada. El texto es tajante: "Será nulo de pleno derecho el contrato por el que se convenga la gestación, con o sin precio, a cargo de una mujer que renuncia a la filiación materna a favor del contratante o de un tercero". Y en su artículo dos añade: "La filiación de los hijos nacidos por gestación de sustitución será determinada por el parto".
Este último punto es el que trae de cabeza al menos a una decena de parejas gays españolas que tienen o están en trámites de tener hijos por este método en el extranjero (la mayoría, en Estados Unidos). Porque aunque el procedimiento sea legal ahí, los consulados se niegan a registrar al hijo con dos padres, ya que entienden que debe haber una madre. Así que el niño llega a España, pero como estadounidense. La situación no se da en el caso de mujeres solas, de parejas heterosexuales o de lesbianas que recurren a esta técnica, ya que siempre pueden inscribir a la mujer (o a una de ellas) como madre.
Quienes más lejos han llegado para inscribir a su hijo son dos homosexuales de Valencia. El matrimonio consiguió que la Dirección General de Registros y Notariados emitiera un dictamen que les permitía inscribir al niño como hijo de ambos (igual que si fuera una adopción conjunta). Pero la Fiscalía lo ha recurrido, por entender que hay un fraude de ley.
Los hombres habrían podido evitar este conflicto si en vez de inscribir a los niños (en este caso han tenido dos) como hijos de ambos, lo hubieran hecho con sólo un padre y el otro hubiera iniciado un trámite de adopción. Pero ellos se niegan porque creen que es injusto para su matrimonio. El resto de las parejas que están en situación similar están a la espera.