I like to think that I know a little about fear; I've lived with it for the past seven years and it's become a natural part of who I am. I'm almost embarrassed to say that it has dictated the choices I've made in my life more than I'd like to admit, but lately that fear has overcome me. I fall asleep with it and worse than that, I wake up with it. I'm tired of being scared and if there ever was a time to speak openly about what I face as an "alien" and the Canadian half of a bi-national gay couple in this country, now is the time.
I'm here legally and have been since I moved here in 2005 to start at my "dream job" in the music industry. Little did I realize that the short seven hour car ride that landed me in this new country just south of my own border would begin my tumultuous journey through American immigration, would cost me thousands of dollars I wasn't making and likely would never make at said dream job, and immigration paperwork that not only tied me to my job but tied my hands behind my back and taped my mouth shut. I've been grateful every day to have a job but that hasn't made my struggle any less real, at least for me.
Aside from the pseudo panic (that physically made me sick) every few years when I went to renew or change my VISA, I could almost forget that I wasn't like everyone else. I could imagine that I was free to come and go as I pleased, that when I crossed the border back into America I wouldn't get stopped, that I could pick up and switch jobs easily if I so chose and that I had the power to speak up for myself at work -- almost. The reality was in fact very different and unfortunately the VISA has always been there, in the back of my mind, my own personal handcuff's, looming.
Like most of us here in New York, I work hard and for the most part non-stop. I dated compulsively in those first few years, but it was disaster after love life disaster and I never really saw a future with any of these temporary partners. My life centered around my friends and my job and I always knew that because of my status in this country I'd likely end up back in Canada when my VISA options ran out. As I started to grow older here I began to realize just how much I wanted to stay in my adopted home, despite my love for Canada. My friends became my family, the people who without fail would run to my house for an impromptu Passover dinner when I felt homesick on the holidays (I'm usually the only Jew at the table); the people who celebrated with me when I finally got the guts to leave my first job and accept an exciting new one -- VISA panic and all; and the people who cried with me after each of my horrible dating adventures ended. That realization was when things started to get even scarier for me -- that's when I started to really focus on my status in this country.
Things got infinitely more terrifying when three years ago I met the love of my life. Life with her was different right from the start -- she was the perfect match for me and I started to seriously think about the future. A year later we moved in together and this past February she got down on her knee while on vacation in Mexico and proposed. It felt like a dream come true even though I knew it had been coming and we'd been speaking about marriage for a while. I'd been advised by my lawyer that I shouldn't legally get married in New York because it could effect my status for future VISA applications so we'd discussed doing a spiritual ceremony. But over the past year or two it seemed like the situation was changing and my hopes had soared that we could be like any other couple and that we could get legally married. That maybe one day, together, we could erase my fear, she could sponsor me and we could live happily ever after.
When marriage passed in New York State we watched with bated breath from Stonewall and as we heard the news and shared the joy with the community around us it felt like things were finally moving forward. When we got into the cab home that night, my partner cried. When I asked her why she was crying she reiterated what I was already feeling, how bittersweet this news was and she's right -- she still can't sponsor me, our future and our path remains so uncertain.
I'm shocked daily when I realize how few people actually understand that gay marriage in New York, or any other state doesn't mean that our problem is solved. It's an incredible and very important first step but it breaks my heart when gay folks and society in general don't understand that DOMA is a federal issue and this fight is far from over, not only on the immigration front but for the 1138 Federal Rights & Protections that same sex couples aren't eligible for. I get it, it's hard to understand something when it doesn't directly affect you, but that's exactly why I'm putting my fear in the closet today and coming out again. I'm just one voice, and a Canadian voice at that -- but this is my home, my partner's home, and our family and friends here are Americans. I'm proud to live here but I'm tired of fighting and I'm tired of being scared and I know I'm not alone.
Barack Obama really does stand for hope, for me, for my partner, and for LGBT folks nationally and internationally. With his leadership and four more years my partner and I can start to plan for our family in the country we live in and which I have grown to love. I dream of a day where we won't need a back up plan, a place to live far away from my partner's family and a city she thought she'd always live in. I dream of a day when I can shake my seven years of terror off and start to fearlessly speak out for myself in every aspect of my life. I wait for the day where my partner and I's love and future is equal to every heterosexual couple in America. I'm just waiting for President Barack Obama to make good on his word, and I have no doubt that he will. I may not be American but that man is 100 percent my president.
I've spent a significant amount of time the past few weeks and months obsessing about the election, but as we get closer and closer to November 6th my fear has started to paralyze me. I find myself picking fights on Facebook with people supporting Mitt Romney before hiding them so I don't make myself crazy, and then not being able to stop myself from going back to see what they've said on any given day. I surf Google News for articles and updated polls, I talk to everyone humanly possible about our president, the good he's done in his first four years and the infinite possibilities of a second term. I've become the voting cheerleader in my office; bi-partisan of course, making sure everyone is registered and knows what they need to do. When push comes to shove though, I can't walk over to the polls on the 6th to vote and that just breaks my heart.
Which leads me to this train of thought. What I can do is open my mouth, walk past the fear that paralyzes me and speak my thoughts, scream them from the rooftop. Put my deepest fears out there into the world and hope that our story strikes a chord with even just one person who my have been on the fence, or who may not have been planning to go out to vote. What I can do is tell everyone why it's so important to my partner and I that each and every single person goes out on November 6th. Though some of you may not be as fired up as you were in 2008, I beg you to exercise your right to pick the person who will lead the country we live in for the next four years.
I hope that you too see hope in the future, that you see equality and freedom and an America moving forward instead of backwards.
Follow Cara Wodnicki on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@carawodnicki