Now That I Have Your Attention….


Well, I have a lot more to say! I guess my extended blog absence is over. Maybe. I’m a bit rusty, to say the least. Before I launch into my posts about my life and loves and ups and downs, I need to say a few more things about religion, apologies and forgiveness.

Some friends have mentioned to me that they are surprised that I — as a lesbian — shop at B&H. To which I say, have you ever been there and interacted with their salespeople?! They are amazing! They will spend hours with me, without rushing me, to make sure I get exactly what I need. I swear they are all professional photographers moonlighting in sales for deep discounts. They are honest to a fault: They have many times talked me out of a more expensive product for one that serves my specific needs better. And they teach me things, like exposure compensation and what that setting is on my camera, so I always walk out of there knowing more than I did when I came in. They are living, breathing camera manuals and they have, for certain, made me a better photographer. Take that, Best Buy!

There is little doubt that the amazing customer experience at B&H has won over scores of customers. However, people are questioning my patronage because of the store’s owner’s religious affiliation. This store is founded and run by people who observe Hasidism, a conservative branch or Orthodox Judaism. The store also employees many people who are religiously observant. I am aware that the Orthodox Jewish doctrine does not condone homosexuality, but most organized religions are not known for being particularly gay friendly. Certain churches or synagogues or temples may set aside anti-gay tenets and have a more open community, but those places of worship are few and far between.

I neither have, nor will I ever, pick where I shop based on the owners’/employees’ religious identification. I don’t care who you worship or what religious doctrines you follow, as long as you are respectful to me. Because the reality is, while Catholicism doesn’t respect homosexuality, many Catholics do (including some of my closest friends). Mormons have an anti-gay history, but not all Mormons are anti-gay (and I know a collection of gay Mormons!) And so while I realize that the Orthodox religion doesn’t condone homosexuality, I am not going to paint all Orthodox people with that paintbrush.

Political views? Well, that is a whole different animal. If a corporation of any kind uses its stage to express viewpoints that oppose mine, then consider me a former customer.

Chick-Fil-a’s COO is on record opposing gay marriage. He says his company supports the “biblical” definition of family. (Oops. That’s not my family.) And they put their money where their mouth is: They fund — to the tune of millions of dollars — anti-gay groups that work hard to end gay-friendly legislation. It is a pretty easy decision for me not to eat at Chick-Fil-a—which is a shame because I do really like their sandwiches.

Unless a country, a store, a restaurant, a corporation or entity of any kind states in any way that they are anti-gay, I am fine. There are times when I MUST do research: We are taking the girls on a vacation outside of the country, and you better believe I did ensure that the country gay friendly. But can you imagine how exhausting that is to do that on a daily basis? Do I have to interrogate every single teacher of my children? Must I interview the owner of, say, the local dry cleaner to determine is they belong to any political group or religion that is anti-gay? And then to demand to interview every employee to see where they stand on the issues that are important to me and my family? It simply doesn’t work that way for me. Maybe that makes me a failed activist. But I trust that my children’s teachers —regardless of political and religious affiliation, and personal views — will be respectful to my children. And if they are not, watch out. And if that dry cleaner put up a sign denouncing the Supreme Court’s recent gay marriage ruling, well, I would take my business elsewhere in a New York or Northampton minute.

Forgiveness, well that comes easy to me, most of the time. It’s selfish act, in a way, because by forgiving I am releasing the anger or resentment or bitterness that I carry for whatever offense or perceived offense. I simply cannot hold onto things like that. It’s exhausting for me, and puts me in a bad mood. Forgiving myself, well, that’s another blog post; I need to work on that.  But forgiving others is old hat. So I forgive, because it’s worth it in the end to now end up one of those bitter people. Have you seen those people? The ones that hold onto wrongs for decades and steep in bitterness? That will never be me. It’s just not who I am.

Pictured above: Why is this so important to me? Because my children are listening. And watching.

Diamond-Cut Apologies


You know that quote that goes around after horrific events, like the Boston marathon bombings? It’s something Mister Rodgers said about in the midst of bad, look for the helpers? Well, yesterday I realized I had a lot of helpers around me.

First, let me be clear that I am not equating a homophobic verbal exchange at a cash register with terrorist events. I obviously realize the difference. But yesterday, and the day before, the outpouring of comments, emails and support stunned me. I am grateful for every single one.

I have become immune to the power of apology. As the mother of six-year-old twins, I have to negotiate apology events constantly. I can’t count the number of times I say “Apologize to your sister!” in a single day. And what happens next: A terse “sorry” spit out by a child with a scowl on her face, about as genuine as cubic zirconia. Looks flashy, but no substance. Man, I work hard to make them look at each other in their eyes, and say it like they mean it, use a personal pronoun, and understand that “sorry” is not just a word, it’s an action.

But I digress. All this Mister Rodgers and sorry talk to say that yesterday, while I was supervising cousins playing in a pool on Long Island, and enjoying some screen-free time in the beautiful sunshine with my family (minus Nicole, who is still in Haiti), B&H contacted me via comments on my blog, via Twitter and even via some of my friends to apologize. Their diligence is noted. And we didn’t get a cookie-cutter, forced apology: It was a genuine apology that seemed truly heartfelt. Read for yourself below.  (This was what was sent via email. You can read in the blog comments what was said there.)

B&H didn’t have to do anything. I’m a loyal customer, for sure, but I don’t come with million-dollar contracts. I shop there for all of my camera needs, but, until I (maybe) upgrade to a full-frame camera, right now my needs are mainly lenses (well, those ARE pricey). I have friends, and Twitter and social media outlets, but we all know I don’t come with 50K twitter followers. In other words, I really could have been brushed under the carpet, cast off as a disgruntled customer, business as usual.   

Instead, they apologized, sincerely, and I was grateful. That is what I wanted, all I wanted. And this is why that is important: When the girls get older, and we have to have Hard Conversations about the horrific and specific prejudices they will encounter in their lives due to the fact that they have two moms — as it will be a matter of “when” and not “if”— I will be able to say: This happened. It’s not right. I wrote a letter. They apologized. And that is how you handle a bad situation.

It doesn’t, of course, change what happened. And I don’t now paint everyone who works at that store as homophobic; after all, one person doesn’t represent an entire staff. There is no B&H corporate policy of hatred or homophobia. But it did happen. And there is a part of me that is grateful that it did, for several reasons. It reminds me that we need to have conversations with the girls about how the world sometimes works. I can’t just put my head in the sand and hope for the best. It reminds me that there is a lot of work that still needs to happen for acceptance — I can’t imagine people having to blatant homophobia at a doctor’s office, or work, or a restaurant. We simply can’t forget that this still happens — a lot. And it reminds me that there is a ton of support out there, that I have a small army behind me, filled with people who are outraged when I am outraged; people who see (hear) the wrong in words when many won’t; people who have my children’s backs. That means the world to me, you have no idea. The world is shifting, indeed, and the good will someday outweigh the bad. A girl can dream. 

So now, it’s a new day, and while I DID say that all I wanted was an apology, I think I may have a new request. I read once that there are three parts to an apology:

  1. I’m sorry.
  2. I was wrong.
  3. What can I do to make it right?

Most people do the first step; some people do the first and second; but most forget the third, myself included. What can I do to make it right? I will admit that I had one of those moments of enlightenment when I first read that quote. Oh so THAT’S how an apology works! It’s not just a collection of words that we say out loud. We have to offer to make it right, even if the affronted person crosses their arms, scowls and says “nothing,” like a six-year-old. I need to remember to start teaching the girls that.

I said from the beginning that all I wanted was an apology. B&H did that. And they admitted that they (well, the employee, that is) were/was wrong, thus satisfying number two. But what can they do to make it right? Friends suggested that perhaps a donation to HRC would be appropriate, and I think that is a great idea. Why? Because some day, when the girls are older and we talk about these situations with more depth, I can add that to the story: They apologized and look what action they took! I am all about hindsight. 

I know B&H is quite involved in charitable donations (I recall reading that the owners of B&H are very charitable, and modest — despite the runaway success of their company. There were some interesting stories that I vaguely recall) so I am sure a donation of any amount would not cut too much into their budget. I was sent an email address and phone number, and I think I may contact them directly today to see if that is possible.  

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about that quote about how you can’t boil an ocean, but you can do wonders with a few drops of water. I feel like, over the past couple of days, we boiled a few drops of water. I am filled with this renewed passion and belief that even I  can make a difference! It may be little, but awareness breeds awareness.  And I am optimistic enough to think that a collection of many events like this can actually, maybe, kinda, sort of start boiling an ocean. 

Pictured above: Our girls, waiting on the world to change. And below, behold — This is how an apology is done:

Ms. Clarson:

I apologize. B&H apologizes. Colleagues of mine at the highest level of management here know about this terrible situation and apologize. There is no excuse — it is inexcusable. No person should ever have been subjected to what you experienced and for it to have happened in front of your children makes it all the worse.

It is not an excuse for me to say this was aberrant behavior on the part of one individual here. It does not represent the company’s attitude and it certainly does not represent mine. We know who here conducted this conversation with you. His manager and our human resources department have already begun the internal process of addressing this with him.

I doubt anything I can say or write or do can erase this incident from your memory. I understand your feelings extend to the entire company and everyone here. It is not my purpose in this message to convince you to change your mind about not shopping here in the future. In your position I would feel the same way. Nothing is more sacred than family and nothing in this world is more important to me than my own child. My only purposes are to tell you how abjectly we regret this ever happened and to tell you that this was an individual’s inexcusable behavior, not a reflection on our staff.

I would not presume to intrude on you by phoning you at this time but if you want to discuss this further you can reply to this email address or reach me at xxx-xxx-xxx.


 [Redacted! I have always wanted to use that word!]

 Director of Corporate Communications

 B&H Photo-Video, and Pro-Audio

Who is Nicole? Indeed.

IMG_3218Here’s the thing about me: I am an extremely open person. Almost to a fault. I will entertain and answer any question about my life because I assume that people are usually asking for a good reason. There are many mornings when I wake up with a truth hangover, wondering if maybe I should have activated my dusty censoring function. But most of the time don’t second-guess my personal policy of open honesty. You ask me a question and I will give you an answer.

This applies to my oh-so-controversial sexuality. I have to come out of the closet on an almost daily basis. If you are straight, you might be surprised by that. But there is a steady undercurrent of heterosexuality and heterosexual assumptions. Sometimes I let it slide, but more often than not, I don’t, especially in front of my six-year-old daughters. And, of course, homophobia is alive and well. There are situations when Nicole and I unconsciously increase the distance between us, or let go of clasped hands. I am not proud of those moments. But I justify them because I feel like we are trying to make our lives easier in a certain moment or because we feel unsafe; we are not, in fact, ashamed or trying to make homophobic people comfortable.

One place I especially don’t want to be judged is at places where I spend my money. Why would I support people or businesses that don’t support me? Chick-Fil-a, I’m looking at you! The corporate entity has stated its views, and they don’t align with mine. We just go our separate ways. Which is a shame, because I really do love their chicken sandwich, and we all know how picky I am.

So this is why my experience yesterday at B&H was particularly distressing. For those of you who don’t know, B&H is a camera and electronic superstore/institution in NYC. The store itself is enormous, and they transport purchased products with an overhead trolley system, much to the delight of Madeline and Avery. I have been a customer here for over 15 years, spanning my years of living on a boat in the Hudson River to the years when I was pushing a giant double stroller through the tight aisles to get to the elevator.  I have bought every camera I own from this store, plus every lens, battery, flash, tripod, binoculars and accessories. In other words: A lot of money. My favorite thing about this place: the amazing customer service and knowledgeable staff. I have on more than one occasion gone there to buy, say, a certain lens, and they insist I would be happier with another one, which happens to cost a lot less. So few stores operate under that philosophy (i.e., what’s best for the customer and not the bottom line) and so I rewarded them with my business.

It was supposed to be a quick trip. I stopped in to buy a new camera battery and charger (for the camera, incidentally, that I purchased at B&H). My amazing, perfect, beautiful and did I mention amazing daughters (yes, I tend to overcompensate with adjectives for my children’s little egos when they are exposed to situations that might make them feel less than) were by my side as I handed over the credit card to the cashier. What followed was a hideous exchange, a homophobic encounter that was particularly distressing, as my children were witness to it. My children, who think nothing of having two moms; who know only love in their lives; who are explicitly taught to not judge people, and who have never, ever once found our family dynamic “strange.”

The cashier demanded to know who Nicole was, asking several times in a row “Who is Nicole?” After hedging twice I said, “Nicole is my wife.”  If this were a movie moment, you would hear car tires screeching to a halt or a record needle being dragged across vinyl. He stared me, unable to hide the look of disgust on his face. Maybe “look of disgust” is his resting face, and I realize that opinions about appearances can be subjective, but I can say with absolute authority that he was disgusted. He kept repeating “your wife?!” again and again, as if I had some sort of disease that made me accidentally alter gendered words. It was as if he was waiting for me to correct myself.

I guess I could have lied or come up with some sort of more neutral answer, but the thing is, I don’t feel like I should have to hide that fact that I am a woman married to a woman. And I will not doing that in front of my daughters, unless we are in a situation that I deem dangerous.  We are not going to slink around in the shadows and margins because some people can’t accept the fact that love exists in many permutations.

Back to my not-so-nice cashier. After establishing that I was married to a (gasp!) woman, he asked “But who is the husband?” Again, several times in a row. Now lesbians around the world, unite: This question is particularly loathsome and offensive, am I right? Marriage is not some game, and we don’t play roles. I was stunned by this question, and just stood there, mouth agape, held hostage because he was holding my credit card and not giving it back. Quick, I needed to answer, which was difficult because I was so flustered. OK, so I am not proud with my answer, but, again, in the interest of honesty to those of you reading this, I will be honest with what I said: “Well, my wife goes off and works every day and I stay home and cook and take care of the kids. I guess that makes her the husband and me the wife?” Again, cue needle-on-the-record scratch. This is when things got way too personal, and once you start talking about my children, watch out.

With the mask of disgust, still on his face, he pointed at Madeline and Avery and asked if those were my children. OK, this is when I need to take a few deep breaths, because I get enraged when I think of my children being subjected to this. I won’t go line-by-line with what he said next, because, frankly, I can’t handle it right now. I will summarize: He asked several ways how I could have children without a man (and not just logistically), and how our children can be raised without a father (also not just logistically). I was stunned at how out-of-line his questions were and how I was unable to control this situation and just how this conversation had spiraled out of control. I found myself starting to try to answer in vague terms, but when the focus started getting sperm-focused, I snapped. Finally. My children were NOT going to learn about their genesis in a camera store under fluorescent lights with this homophobic cashier. My children were not going to hear about the details of their conception as discussed with this man. Their family dynamic was not going to continue to be dissected and they were not going to be subjected to invasive questions for one nanosecond longer. I took my credit card and receipt and left. Honestly, if Nicole weren’t leaving for Haiti the next morning and in need of that charger, I would have walked out and skipped the purchase.

I should have said “none of your business” from the get-go, but, see, that is not who I am.  Clearly I need to rethink how to handle interactions like this.

I thank God our girls live in two very liberal areas and don’t encounter situations like this very often. No one deserves to be treated that way. It is easy for me to forget the struggles that other gay people go through, those who aren’t lucky enough to live in an area with more acceptance than not; there is still so much progress that needs to be made. And believe me, it is not lost on me that there is a big difference between fighting for acceptance and respect in a store where I spend money on hobbies and for people in who are fighting for acceptance and respect in quotidian situations of much more importance.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the changes that need to happen. What can I possibly do? Tell people they should care about this because equality affects everyone? Or guilt people into because who knows… Maybe their child is gay. Or ask someone to put themselves in my shoes, and imagine what it is like to have to reveal their sexuality like this every day, in the audience of your children, to people who are judging you and your family as less than. I can’t force anyone to fight for my cause. But I can at least demand respect. And change where I shop.

And that is why, after 15 years, I am parting ways with this store, quite publicly. What do I want from B&H? An apology, to my daughters. And soon.

OK, I am glad I got all that off of my chest! Pictured above: You know I can’t publish a post without a picture!

Here is the letter I wrote. I am waiting with bated breath for that apology:

Dear B&H;

To say I am disappointed would be an understatement. I have been a loyal B&H customer for at least 15 years, and if you check my records, I think you will see that I have spent quite a lot of money there through the years. The stellar customer service, knowledgeable staff and amazing inventory won me over from the beginning. I have sung the praises of B&H to countless friends and family, many of who have also turned into customers as well.

Unfortunately, I had a homophobic experience at your store on July 30th that has changed my entire view of the store and my loyal-shopper status. The fact that my children were there to witness this made it even worse. I was with my six-year-old twin daughters, who do not deserve to hear the questions that were posed to me, let alone view the look of disgust on the cashier’s face as he processed the fact that I was a lesbian.

I simply wanted to pay for my purchase (the last $80 I will spend there). But I handed over my credit and was asked, quite bluntly, “Who is Nicole?” And here is where what should be a quick, easy and pleasant transaction turned ugly. I said twice that she is on my account and that we both purchase frequently at B&H. When that didn’t satisfy him I said, “She is my wife.” I was met with a look of disgust; he was literally taken aback. He repeated several times “Your wife?! Your wife!?” I explained that we are a same-sex couple, and that we are legally married. At this point I should have taken my children and walked away, but I didn’t. Instead, I stayed and was subjected to more questions, including “Who is the husband?” (he asked this several times; and, for the record, there are no husbands in a lesbian marriage) and questions about how we had children without a father. I finally came to my senses and shut down the conversation when he started to get more specific about how we could have a baby without a man.

This experience was horrible. I fully understand that, sadly, there are people who are homophobic, but I don’t expect to encounter reactions like this from people who work at the stores I shop at. There should not be an interrogation about partners, (stereotypical) gender roles, and the genesis of children. It simply isn’t appropriate, not to mention belittling and, any way you slice it, judgmental. I feel certain that the cashier doesn’t ask straight people about the spouses, how they have children, etc.

I know B&H is a behemoth. I know you have customers that matter a lot more — from a financial standpoint — than I do. But you should know that you have lost a loyal customer. And I will no longer be singing the praises of B&H.

Sincerely, jlc