Sunday, March 29, 2009


My college has a "livestock judging team" that travels around the country competing in...well, I guess you'd call them competitions. They compete with kids from other schools to see how well they can judge the livestock. And then they're judged for it. And there are winners and losers-- students who are good at judging livestock and those who aren't so good at it.

If not for the livestock aspect, I think I'd do pretty well at a judging competition. I'm very competitive and I love judging things: People, situations, inanimate objects, the weather. I'm all about judging.

One of my hobbies is reading advice columns. (I recently put links to some of my favorites on this here blog.) I like to read about people's problems and judge them for it.

But it's not just about judging. I also like to ask myself what I would do in a given dilemma, or if it's the kind of situation I could ever imagine myself in. This helps me to define my own values. I've realized, for example, that I'm very rule-oriented and favor keeping your promises. So in most disputes I side with the person who kept a previously agreed-upon commitment (unless the extenuating circumstances are extreme.)

For an open-minded liberal, I can get pretty judgmental. I believe in the motto, "Live and Let Live," and would never want to step on other people's rights to live as they want-- as long as they're not directly hurting other people-- but that doesn't mean I can't judge some things as stupid, annoying, or icky.

Which brings me to the latest installment of my Half-Read Book Reviews. (See here and here for earlier reviews.) Right now I'm in the middle of One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Polyamory, Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love.

The title pretty much says it all. I like the idea that there's lots of different ways to make up a family, I'm just not that crazy about all the examples in the book. Sometimes I think I'm much more amenable to "alternative" lifestyles in theory than I am in practice.

For example, I have nothing against the idea of polyamory or open marriage if it's truly what everyone involved wants. Hey, what could be hotter than happy swingers!? But the essay about it in this book, "And Then We Were Poly" by Jenny Block, doesn't really paint an appealing picture. She wanted-- needed-- to have sex with people other than her husband, so she talked him into an open marriage. Or rather, she had a good friend of hers seduce him. He has only indulged in the open marriage once, while she continued to seek out new partners. Sometimes this "hurts him," but he doesn't want to be "that guy," so he says he's happy with the arrangement. Reading between the lines, it seems that he's only agreeing to this arrangement to appease her.

So while it seems like polyamory could work in theory, I'm not convinced that, in Block's case, it's what everyone really wants. Much of her tone seems to be defensive: There's nothing wrong with us! My husband is happy! And hey, monogamous couples break up just as much as poly ones! Maybe she has to be defensive because she encounters so much judgment from other people. Or maybe the woman doth protest too much.

Dan Savage, one of my favorite writers and my absolutely favorite advice columnist, writes about his experience with open adoption. The birth mother of his son, a homeless drifter by choice, maintains infrequent contact with the boy she bore, who's being raised by Savage and his husband. One of the things I love about Savage's column is how he's not afraid to get all judgmental on his advice seekers-- in clever, snarky, and funny ways. This essay is pretty maudlin, though, as he talks about how hard it is, as a parent, for his son to have such a flaky, unreliable "mother." He gives the impression that he's had second thoughts about the whole open adoption process. This seems like another case of something that could work in theory, but not so much here.

The other article that raised my judgmental fur was called "Daddy Donoring" by Antonio Caya. It's about a guy who donates his sperm (the "old-fashioned way," which I always approve of) to a lesbian ex-girlfriend so that she can have a baby. He views it merely as doing a friend a favor; he doesn't want any of the emotional, financial, or legal responsibilities of fatherhood. He's a sperm donor and nothing more.

Okay, in theory I don't have a problem with this. I mean, yes, it's very hard for a single woman to raise a child on her own, and it's not ideal for the child, but neither is divorce or death or disease but these things happen all the time. If a single woman wants to have a child on her own, and can support that child financially, I won't stand in the way of that decision, as the Quakers say.

But here's what I find incredibly stupid: Caya tells everyone about it. Mr. I'm-Just-Spermman-And-Nothing-Else tells all his friends and family what he's doing. He makes a big announcement at a family dinner. He tells his new girlfriend. When he tells his mom, she gets in touch with the mother of his NotChild and plays the role of grandma. This does not seem consistent at all with his plan to have no relationship with this child. If it's not his child, then why is his mother playing grandma? If it's merely a sperm donation, then why is he making such a big deal out of it? This just doesn't seem consistent with his wish to remain completely free of this child.

Aside from some other articles that I thought were simply not very well written , I haven't had many other judgmental impulses (so far) while reading the book. To show how open-minded I am, I don't have any problems with stories about prison marriages, interracial babies, international relationships, large adoptive families, marriages with large discrepancies in age/economic status, or fake-marrying your gay best friend so he doesn't get deported.

See, there are lots of ways to make a happy family.

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