Our Second Wedding Anniversary

DSC02131Today my husband and I are celebrating our second wedding anniversary. It also happens to be the fifth anniversary of our first date. It’s a great convenience having only to remember one date for two significant events in our lives. It wasn’t entirely intentional either, as it was the earliest time we could schedule or civil ceremony following the repeal of Prop 8.

Our civil ceremony was very simple. We went down to our local courthouse, alone and without any friends or family, and tied the knot. Some of our family members were upset by our not arranging a ceremony but having one was both beyond our means at the time and not the most appealing option.

Speaking for myself, I’m not one for elaborate ceremony. They make me nervous. Nevertheless, I do somewhat regret having the opportunity the throw the bouquet. I can just imagine my best friend shouting at me from the crowd of our friends and family, “Gene, you’re not supposed to aim!”

For my husband, our civil ceremony holds a special meaning. His maternal grandparents both served during World War II and got married as soon as they could after the war. They weren’t even officially discharged from service and went to the courthouse in their uniforms; and since they had come alone, a witness (an old man who hung around the courthouse precisely for this reason) was provided. Coincidentally (or perhaps providentially), their wedding anniversary also falls on July 23rd.

They marriage didn’t require much to be special and that’s how my husband and I felt about ours. We love each other utterly and we felt confident about our future together pretty early on in our relationship. My sister-in-law frequently makes beeping noise and announces them as the “perfect relationship alert” whenever she observes us being affectionate towards each other. I don’t think she’s far off. I could not have asked for a more supportive and understanding husband.

My androgynous appearance and preference for women clothing, rather the conventionally appropriate dress for my sex, was a problem for my first boyfriend and frequently discourage a number of homosexual men from ever considering me seriously as a partner. My husband, on the other hand, appreciates my sense of style and finds it compelling for many reasons. My husband had not been very lucky in love either and fear, as a result of too many disappointments, that he would never find anyone who could tolerate him.

Even as same-sex marriage has been universally legalized throughout the US, it remains a controversial topic—even among queer people. Some reject it as a symbol of middle class values and the perpetuation of systemic power structures while others regard it as meaningful expression of their commitment and a necessary legal provision.

Personally, I do not regard civil marriage, as it currently exists, as the final or best form. Marriage should not be the means to gaining citizenship, healthcare, or financial support. We can and should do more to provide for the fundamental needs of all citizens. With the current health care system in place, we making important stride towards fulfilling these ideals but we still have a long way to go. Nevertheless, civil marriage establishes a necessary legal relationship between two individuals. It makes your spouse you next of kin and gives them the responsibility for making medical decisions when you cannot. While these privileges can be given through wills and advanced directives, it is convenient to have them specified in one legal document. For queer individuals without supportive families, this legal provision can be of consequence. Civil marriage won’t solve many of the social problems affecting queer people but neither will it’s abolition.

Of course, there are those who oppose same-sex marriage on the unreasonable notion of heterosexual superiority but those opinions are hardly worth discussion here, as they have been so widely discredited by intellect far greater than myself.

My attitude toward civil marriage is fundamentally practical and pragmatic. Aside from certain legal provisions and rights, I demand little else. The rest is between my husband and my self, the love we feel for one another and the life we intend to share together.

Advertisements

Futons Aren’t Forever

I didn’t believe my aunt when she told me that futons are a phase … but, having now used one for seven years, I can wholeheartedly concur with her opinion.

It’s not as if they aren’t useful–in fact, the dual purpose as sofa and bed are quite useful. It’s just that one has to convert it manually and it’s just one of those things one might describe as “easier said than done.” It’s not like I did not have ample warning, not only from my aunt but from the agonied demonstrations of the sales clerk who sold it to me. Perhaps it was because she was petite and I am decidedly not petite but I resolutely believed I would not struggle with it as much as she did.

Nevertheless, I’m not against the futon–but in the future I will use it primarily as a sofa and force my future house guests (and possibly my husband) to the torments of its coily mattress.

The Worm at the Core (Book Review)

41LMKElQ5yL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Death is an unpleasant thing. Sure, we may make jokes about it and wish it upon our enemies but when we actually begin to contemplate our own mortality we tremble in fear of what our existence, and lack thereof, might mean in the grand scheme of things. This might seem like a common sense—after all it has been a subject of serious contemplation by philosophers, theologians, and thinkers for centuries—but within the last thirty years or so psychologists around the world have been studying the role that the awareness we have of our own mortality has over how behavior and beliefs. In The Worm at the Core, psychologists Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski discuss the implications of a large body of research on what they have called “terror management” theory.

Terror management theory is largely derived from the 1973 book, The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker but addresses a problem that has vexed humankind for as long as anyone can recall. According to terror management theory, we rely on culturally relevant belief systems to buffer ourselves against existential anxiety. Our psychological defense can be both conscious and non-conscious but tend to be largely the latter. In addition, our reactions to death threat can varying in meaningful ways depending on whether or not death related thoughts are fully conscious or not.

When we consciously think about death we use proximal defenses. We use proximal defenses to remove conscious thoughts about our mortality from our minds. Once our awareness becomes non-conscious, we distal defenses. These defenses are only indirectly related to our mortality and lean instead towards fulfilling symbolic immorality. This is where our beliefs come into play. Ideals such as beauty, wealth, status, and good health can serve as buffers against existential anxiety. When participants are primed with a mortality reminder, their interest in these ideals increase compared to those in the neutral conditions.

However, for these ideals to have an impact, they must also be relevant to the individual. When people respond immediately to conscious death threats, they interests can radically change but participants are made to wait they tend to revert to which ever beliefs they held before. Awareness of death can make people express an increased desire to exercise but only those for whom exercise is meaningful part of their beliefs will actually increase the time they spend exercising.

Culture provides us with the defenses we use to buffer against existential anxiety but this does not mean that life is meaningless. Rather, it means just the opposite—that life is infinitely meaningful. However, the range of humanly relevant meaning is possibly quite limited. The beliefs we choose, whether consciously or not, are also hugely consequential. Our beliefs have the power to change the world and can quite literally be a life and death matter.

Prejudice is a type of culturally relevant belief, one that aggrandizes one group at the expense of others, and has been for a long time. In one experiments, researchers examined participants attitudes towards racial stereotypes. They found that those who were exposed to the death primer were more likely to favor people who fulfilled racial stereotypes, while those were were exposed to the neutral primer favored those who did not conform to racial stereotypes. In normal circumstances people tend to prefer those who do not fit racial stereotypes but when they are fearful of their own mortality they favor these stereotypes because they confirm a worldview that places them in a position of greater significance and value.

Terror management theory may seem rather grim but we are not mere puppets. In the concluding chapter, the authors point to potential solutions that may ameliorate the destructive potential our of defense mechanism. Accepting the finality of human life and becoming more aware of how the fear of death motivates us are necessary and vital components of our future survival and happiness.

The Worm at the Core is an incredibly insightful and well-written book. It sheds a scientific light on a problem that has plagued human consciousness for thousands of years. The experiments they discuss are wide ranging and touch upon many important social problems, such as judicial bias and prejudice. It well worth reading, not only those studying psychology or philosophy, but for anyone with an inquiring mind.