Archive for June, 2010

Jen (US) and Loz (UK)

Posted on June 19, 2010. Filed under: Stories - from other sites | Tags: , , , , , , |

“Let me die, die trying; if I fall, at least my heart will have been true. Let me die, die trying; I can cry tomorrow if I do.”

Kristen Hall intertwines the necessary optimism and ever-lingering pessimism same-sex bi-national couples suffer in these two lines from one of my favourites of her insightfully written songs. When I listen to her velvety voice wrapping itself around these words, I feel the bristle of pain and anger that springs from a relationship started with pure joy and naïveté. Like many who are partnered with a same-sex foreigner, I often find myself teetering between tossing in the towel and jumping full force into the uncertainty of starting over, propelled equally by love and desperation.

I’m not over-dramatising—I’m a girl in love with a girl who just happens to come from another country, my country’s greatest ally—the United Kingdom. The more liberal UK, old-world as it may seem to some BBC-watching, spirit of ’76 Americans, has at least got some respect for love in its many forms. They realize that the world doesn’t revolve around heterosexuality, however much our current administration would like us to think it does. Their government acknowledges that its worldly citizens fall in love with foreigners, dirty as the word has become in our own country, and give them legal immigration options.

The UK passed immigration law for its citizens to sponsor unmarried partners in 1997, including same-sex couples in this group. “Under this concession a couple must show that they have been living together for four years or more and intend to continue to live together permanently. Once admitted they will have to show that the relationship has subsisted for a further year before being granted settlement”, stated the Immigration Minister, Mike O’Brien. In 1999 this was improved by lessening the prerequisite length of relationship proof to two years.

My country has let me down. Though a bill called the Permanent Partners Immigration Act (PPIA) was introduced to the House of Representatives on the 14th February, 2000— (how appropriate)— by congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), it has yet to garner enough support to come up for vote. This simple, but life-altering legislation would add “permanent partner” behind “spouse” in our INA (Immigration and Nationality Act) text. It is similar to ones introduced and passed in 16 (yes, sixteen!) other countries across the world, from Canada and the United Kingdom to Norway, South Africa and Israel to name a few.

Though it doesn’t guarantee gay and lesbian Americans in bi-national relationships any more rights than other homosexuals, who’ve fallen in love with other Americans, the PPIA needs to pass. I want to spend more than three months at a time with my partner, to wake up beside her every morning instead of having to call or email to find out how her last several days have gone. It would be nice for us bi-nats to settle into a routine without the constant knowledge that we have nothing allowing us to embark upon the journey of our own ‘American dreams’.

As testament to our patriotism, many of us have truly given America every chance—we’ve put our lives on hold, emptied our pockets and racked up credit card debts buying multiple flights for our partners, hoping and praying that this time we’d find a way to stay. In Loz and mine’s case, we’d find that elusive employer who’d sponsor her for a work visa, because I can’t sponsor her, we can’t afford to send her back to university, and her country hasn’t necessitated her fleeing and needing to seek asylum. Oh, and we didn’t have a million dollars to start a business, because America does welcome wealthy capitalists.

Even those who do manage to use one of these means to keep their partner in the country are faced with that expiration date looming over their heads like a stay of execution. People graduate or run out of money to study further, lay-offs happen and, not surprisingly, other countries are improving their laws respective to the LGBT community, causing some to have to reconsider their asylum status. America isn’t a safe long-term investment for same-sex bi-national couples; we have to consider our sanity and stability.

Americans are being forced out—exiled from our own country to be with the ones we love. Jet-lagging, disillusioned, financially and emotionally scarred, we are arriving at the doorsteps of democracies which actually practice what they preach. We are Love Exiles—a group started by a couple in the Netherlands, Martha and Lin McDevitt-Pugh—and we are pissed off! Chapters are springing up in other countries, where our relationship is recognized and our numbers are ever-increasing.

George Bush would probably get that annoying smirk on his face, when told of all the gays leaving America. He may even be mumbling ‘good riddance’ under his breath, but I’m not going to let him have the last word. It’s inhumane and cruel what America does to its own citizens: families are ripped asunder, communities torn apart, employers are losing talent and experience, and we are being denied are right to pursue happiness in our own country. Our lack of rights is leaving holes in the poorly stitched fabric of our democracy.

It is a duplicitous loss—we are lost to our family, friends, co-workers and community, and they are lost to us. Though we gain the right to both live and work in the same country, Loz and I lose dozens of friends, the nearness and dearness of my family, our three cats, most of our stuff through sale or storage, my credit history, my car, my right to unemployment and welfare should I need them, and my rung on the employment ladder. Our commitment is tested by these challenges and stresses; the mettle of our relationship forged in fires of federal fundamentalism.

We are forced to go, and must prove worthy of the UK “permanent partner sponsorship” visa by putting together our file of proof and documentation of at least two years of dating, living together and financial inter-dependence. We present for an immigration office’s scrutiny: our personal emails and letters, dated photos, letters of support from friends and family, apartment leases bearing both our names, medical bills, credit cards, my life insurance plan listing Loz as beneficiary—all proving the existence of our relationship and our ‘commitment’ to each other.

As well as giving someone your most personal documents to peruse, you also pay a whopping fee, now $520, for the consideration they give to your application. Hopefully you also get the sticker, bearing those words UNITED KINGDOM, ENTRY CLEARANCE and next to Type: TO JOIN PARTNER. It’s not the most romantic way to start a new life together—a stranger weighing our hopes and dreams in his hands, taking copies of what they deem most evidentiary. It’s scary and certainly stress-inducing, but I have to admit that we are lucky to have even this option, unlike many couples, for which options are scarcer.

If all goes to plan, then later this year, after my lucky brother’s wedding in October, “I’ll be crossing the Atlantic without charts…following my compass in the dark,” as another Kristen Hall song aptly puts it. I’ll be leaving America to enrich my life in a freer society, ashamed of my own country’s inability to see love beyond borders, without limits or prejudices—to give my relationship a fighting chance. As I head for London on that plane, cleared for entry as an acknowledged same-sex partner, I’ll happily be singing along to Kristen: “…my sails are ragged, but my sights are set on the comfort of a more forgiving shore and a life that’s more worth living for”.

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