The Lawless Netherworlds of Gay Relationships in The Ballad of Tila Tequila

In the days following Casey Johnson’s death last Sunday there’s been a lot of talk about what in the heiress’s life and relationship was “real” and what wasn’t. The ring, ex-girlfriend Courtenay Semel told the press, was not real, nor was it really 17 karats. Casey’s much-touted heiress fortune was also not real — multiple sources confirm that Casey’s family had cut her off. Tila’s pregnancy wasn’t real either, in the strictest (only) definition of “pregnancy” — due to Tila’s apparent struggles conjugating verbs, she announced, “I’m pregnant!” when she really meant, “I’m going to be a surrogate parent for my brother!” Some of their body parts, including Tila’s breasts and Casey’s lips, aren’t technically real, either.

But what about that other thing that isn’t real? That thing us gays don’t really wanna bring up, lest we involve such a controversial and unstable figure in our very serious, very real, fight for marriage equality? What about the engagement, y’all? What about the potential of an actual marriage for Tila Nguyen and Casey Johnson? ‘Cause that engagement wasn’t, after all, real, because Tila and Casey cannot legally marry. I mean we all admit that, right?

We don’t like to discuss this vague conceptual notion of lawless “marriage,” or even acknowledge publicly that our engagements aren’t as “real”/significant as straight couple’s engagements. As Julie Goldman so deftly targets in her Commitment Ceremony video, when we use the same language for our ceremonies that heteros do, we’re only playing along. It’s important for our movement that we play along. We don’t like to talk about the “fiancée” in quotation marks because it’s offensive and disrespectful to include quotation marks, as it implies illegitimacy. The press must exclude quotation marks because that’s the politically correct thing to do and we get pissed every time we see “marry” in a headline. But let’s “get real” here: gay marriage is not the same thing as straight marriage right now. It is, in practice, really only gay “marriage.”

Gay relationships in America exist in a sort of Lawless Netherworld: couples exist free of paper trails, free of proof and, unless they’ve been together forevs, free of pressure to take complicated property and offspring-securing measures. There is nothing in charge of our hearts besides the bodies that hold them in. Well — we have rights, sometimes, like if something complicated like a custody agreement goes to court; we’re SOMETIMES protected by gender-free laws that govern all citizens, but besides that, we’re left to navigate & delegate our relationships on our own.

Oddly, this lack of legality is rarely discussed in emotional terms. We often speak of what marriage could offer dedicated, long-term couples; but rarely do we discuss how the impossibility of marriage has shaped how ALL gay relationships evolve here in The Lawless Netherworld; and subsequently how these relationships are considered or ignored by the rest of this country’s citizens.


I’m not here to defend Tila Tequila, or to defend her enemies or to subjectively judge anyone. We don’t know Tila, Casey, or any of Tila’s friends or family members. I’m not defending Tila’s actions or condoning her relationship or the legitimacy of her behavior, nor am I arguing that anyone on Casey’s side is acting on anti-gay prejudice — in fact, quite the opposite. I’m arguing that we all make concessions for a gay-marriage-free universe; and these actions aren’t driven by intolerance or hate. That’s precisely the problem.

See; the fact is, Tila Tequila is alone in the Lawless Netherworld of Homosexual Relationships, and all she’s got left are her feelings. The fact is that Tila Tequila and Casey Johnson were engaged, and the world couldn’t care less. Had Tila been a male celebrity trainwreck rather than a female one — mentally ill or on drugs (as alleged) etc. — well, that would’ve been a very different story because of the potential legality at stake. They would’ve been required to pay attention to her controversial methods of grieving, basically, and they all might know a little more about what went down.

So now Tila’s sad and alone and aggressively loathed by the public. She’s also legally excluded from any formal support. Tila’s not well. She’s screaming with manic intensity into cyberspace about her feelings and her memories of Casey’s feelings. Tila’s visibly aching to prove, SOMEHOW, that she mattered to this woman who died, and that this woman mattered to her:

So stop blaming me for her death, i was the ONLY one there for her.

Casey loved me & that is why she chose ME to be her fiance! So enough with blaming me 4 her death!

I miss her so fucking much I can’t take it anymore! I don’t know what to do….I’ve never lost a fiancee before…I miss her so muchh


Well I Can’t Bring Her Back Now But At Least I know the Love Between us WAS REAL & They CAN NEVER TAKE THAT AWAY!

Casey was happiest when she was w/me. She LOVED living alone with me at my house and our 3 dogs. She told me she wished they would let us B!

These words and videos are all she has, and it’s all any gay relationship has in Tila’s home state of California: at our best of times, and in our worst of times.


If Lola hadn’t interviewed Tila for AS in December (a tough piece to put together ’cause of conflicting feelings about Tila’s body of work), I doubt I’d be talking abut this. But all of us here at Autoatraddle are kind of fascinated by our own fascination. It’s SO WEIRD because it’s SO UNLIKE US that we bizarrely ended up being one of a handful of non-paparazzi sources who directly chatted with the couple in their home during their relationship. Lola remembers:“for what it’s worth, [Casey] said hi to me on the phone and made Tila laugh and they sounded genuinely adorable & couple-y. It was for real cute, and I truly wished the best for them — albeit against all odds. This seriously bums me out, no matter what ugly truths may lay beneath the surface.” So that’s what we know from the only reliable source Autostraddle has.

Despite this fascination, however, before I go on I want to admit there’s only so much of the Tila-Casey story I can take before risking brain death. So apologies ahead of time if I’m missing some important fight/event; but it actually doesn’t matter as I’m trying to look at broader issues here.

Like this issue: Everyone in Casey’s life is legally entitled to ignore Tila.


Considering the intensity, insanity and/or (allegedly) drug-fueled energy lacing the Johnson-Nguyen union, it’s not far-fetched to imagine that the two would’ve wed before Casey’s death had such a thing been legal — a là Pamela Anderson, Britney Spears, Dennis Rodman, Nicholas Cage et al. That would’ve required a pre-nup (or not) which (either way) would’ve probs inspired a Serious Johnson Family Intervention. If Tila was a man, the alleged drug use or potential mental illness wouldn’t prevent the two from marrying, but it would pose a very real threat to Casey — and vice versa (though it seems no-one is exactly looking out for Tila anymore).

Marriage or engagement would’ve enabled Tila to make medical decisions for Casey and also held her accountable for endangering her if that was the case. There’d have been lawyers, financial disclosures and well, Tila would’ve kept the dogs Casey’s friends retrieved earlier this week.  All the “alleged” things thrown around this week would have proof or not; we’d know for sure if Tila was supporting Casey financially (we suspect so). But not since Anna Nicole Smith has a widow been so swiftly discredited. (Furthermore… unfortunately for Tila, she’s a skilled gunman — not with that gun she posted on Twitpic, but at shooting herself in the foot. Which doesn’t help.) I think legality would’ve settled a lot of things and improved the situation for everyone involved here on both sides.

In the paparazzi video of Nicky and Bijou taking said dogs from Tila’s home, one of the “paps” badgers Tila, clearly hoping for the censor-free TMI they always got out of her: “If she’s your  fiancée or wife, why are they taking all of it?” I know what that made me think, but Tila, bless her tiny brain, just shrugged, and cried.

But the law is the law. If Casey did have family money, her parents wouldn’t need to get alarmed about this bad relationship ’cause Prop 8 protects Tila from automatically obtaining any. If friends felt the relationship was toxic, a pending wedding would’ve prompted a more urgent, forcible intervention ’cause laws are serious like that and if the relationship was a good one, then Tila would currently have protections she deserves. The fact that a wedding hadn’t been planned makes sense for a gay couple, as the ceremony isn’t “real” anyhow; but that detail would’ve been an important piece of information when assessing the seriousness of a straight relationship.

Using their legal right to ignore Tila’s stake doesn’t make the Johnsons or Casey’s friends homophobic at all. (Although Casey’s parents were one of George W.’s top campaign contributors, sidenote.) We’re all complicit if accused of treating gay relationships differently because marriage isn’t a real possibility.

For example: we’re sometimes relieved to never fear that a long-term girlfriend will one day demand having that conversation about putting a ring on it. Closeted celebs are protected by a paper trail-free string of secrets. A lesbian won’t log on to Facebook and see their ex-girlfriend married and if she does, she may guiltily remind herself that it’s not “real” and therefore could be quickly broken up should she return to your loving arms again. Come on, you know you’ve done that!

I’m not arguing that monogamy or legal marriage is an inherently “better” form of human union; however, because our culture was built around it (gender roles, etc), it is very different and esteemed here. Marriage applies solid, technical structures to an emotionally-driven partnership. For all the benefits legality provides for successful marriages, it also has benefits for unsuccessful ones –in emotional times, a legal framework can protect the emotional investment.

Marriage certificates, despite how freely straight people often obtain them (Britney Spears!), mean something. Courtenay and Tila could settle the soulmate squabble with a piece of paper — that’s the proof. As the public, we don’t need the proof ’cause it’s not our business. But these papers and these laws are things you wish you had sometimes because only having feelings is fucking SCARY when you’re in a crazypants relationship! Maybe straight people don’t deserve this legal protection either and we should all just grow up, but well they DO have it, and so we want it too. Because who among us hasn’t had or known of a crazy girlfriend who got away with shit a crazy husband never could: adultery, abuse, stalking, stealing, abandonment?

We don’t like to talk about that side of it because that’s where straight people mess marriage up, and we focus on what looks good for our movement: loving dedicated couples who are denied hospital visits, child custody, or the pension of their deceased partners.

We don’t look at those crazy-ass toxic relationships that were so intense they carved a hole in your heart and you knew, no matter how deep the emotional connection, that at any minute your loved one could get up, walk out the door, and never speak to you again, and that it wouldn’t matter if you’d paid their bills or built a life around their demands. There is nothing tying you together besides your feelings. And that’s really frightening.


Because we have no legality, no protection, and no papers; instead in the case of Tila Tequila and Casey Johnson we now have one of the messiest almost-widows of all time. “Dyke Drama” is partially a result of this terrifying lawlessness. We have a lonely, possibly mentally ill tweetaholic who is loathed by the people who peddle her story. This woman is presently claiming her ‘wifey’s’ dying wish is for her to smear the reputation of an old friend via large unflattering photographs. And her relationship, according to the majority of her state’s residents, is also not worthy of respect. This is A HOT MESS.

When celebs like Charlize Theron and Angelina Jolie refuse to marry til the gays can; we often wonder, “Well what good does that do?” Well, I get it now. We’ve forgotten about the flipside: it’s not about the kind of relationship they’re not going to have, it’s about the Lawless Netherworld relationship style they’re consenting to have instead — the kind of relationship we have as our only choice. It is, in fact, fairly impressive solidarity.

And regardless of who is right, wrong, good, or bad, I’d like to suggest that this situation might mean more to the GLBT community than tawdry celebrity gossip and that maybe, just maybe, it presents us with the opportunity to advocate not only for the functional, smiling gay families on pro-equality ads, but also our human dysfunction — in all its raw and ugly shamelessness — for better and most certainly for worse.

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3200 articles for us.


  1. I read this once and I couldn’t come up with a quality comment. I read it ten minutes later and I still don’t think I have one.
    I love that this website cannot only mix current events with pop culture but you all have the ability to BLEND it into one amazing article, like this one.
    I also love that there was a lot of “we” going on here. bravo, forever.

    • Thank you — that’s sort of my grand goal in life (“mix current events with pop culture to blend it into one amazing article’) so thank you!

  2. Onward to equality,
    Joe Mustich, Justice of the Peace,
    Washington, Connecticut, USA.

    And congrats to CT where we just celebrated the one year anniversary of our marriage equality law on 11/12.

  3. I have to say after reading the piece I was a little hesitant to even comment because of all the talk of gay marriage, Tila Tequila and the insanity that has ensued in the last few days. Honestly I could really care less about Tila Tequila and Casey Johnson, it might make me a cold hearted dyke but you know I can’t really respect someone who takes the opportunity of more media for themselves in the face of their fiancee’s death.

    From a personal perspective I can appreciate this piece in it’s sincerity to shed a light on what happens when a partner of someone who is homosexual passes on. In my experience in this situation, I lost my partner a few years ago and can understand the gamut of emotions you go through be it the grieving process or sadly realizing the country you live in does not recognize the person you were committed to for seven years as your partner in life. When they pass, you do not get spousal benefits, social security and forget about a will. For me reading about gay marriage passing in all these states is kind of a joke, similar to an overly hyped restaurant’s food. The food looks good but in the end the presentation is better than the taste. Furthermore I really don’t think Tila Tequila’s situation is one for the LGBT crowd to rally around, after all tomorrow she might be engaged to a unicorn and those are far gayer.

  4. This article brings up a lot of stuff that I think is so important, but that can be kind of awkward to talk about — it’s like, because we want to constantly emphasize that our relationships are just like hetero relationships, in that they’re just as valid and meaningful, we’re hesitant to address the fact that not having equal rights actually does impact the way that we see ourselves, and our partners, and our relationships. It can be really difficult to strike a balance between saying “We’re the same as you! We’re practically getting married anyway!” and saying “We need these rights because not having them is actually harmful to us.”

    Thanks for putting this out there.

    • and because we’re currently on the national stage fighting tooth and nail to prove that our relationships are just as valid, just as meaningful, and just as committed as straight ones, it’s awkward to have to reconcile our struggle to defend ourselves with the fact that our relationships can also be completely dysfunctional, unhealthy, and even abusive rollercoaster rides that could very well end in divorce as quickly and dirtily as any straight marriage.

      • Exactly. And not only that our relationships are as crazy as straight relationships, but that they can be even crazier, because of the whole “lawless netherworld” thing Riese is talking about. One of the best arguments for why we need to be able to get married ends up being one that is scary to bring up, because we don’t want to delegitimize ourselves.

  5. Very interesting stuff, Riese.

    I remember being amazed reading your interview with Tila that when they got engaged, she and Casey didn’t realise they couldn’t get actually get married (legally) in California. And as naive as that is, I sort of feel like that’s how it should be – that disbelief that your relationship can’t be recognised or acknowledged or protected solely because the person you’re with is the same sex as you. I want people to forget the prejudices they’ve grown up with for a bit, and just think about how ridiculous and how harmful that is. But they so very rarely do.

    Also there an argument for civil unions/domestic partnerships/whatever other term that sounds like a business arrangement here? That’s what we have here in the UK, and obviously there are still problems, but it would be another 20 years before it got passed as marriage* and it provides the same rights/protections married couples have in everything but the name. I can only imagine how scary it must be to have nothing at all.

    *personal estimate based on not much

    • “I remember being amazed reading your interview with Tila that when they got engaged, she and Casey didn’t realise they couldn’t get actually get married (legally) in California. And as naive as that is, I sort of feel like that’s how it should be–“

      That shocked the fuck out of us too. We joked we should have a pro-equality PSA with that theme — someone planning a gay wedding and getting all excited and then someone breaking the news, and them being like “wait, what? that doesn’t make sense?” Ideally in this scene someone would be crying in a wedding dress that looks really cute on them, ’cause that always shoots on the waterworks.
      I guess in New Jersey at least people just don’t get the civil unions thing. Even couples that deserve rights find they’re not protected by people who don’t understand the rules.

  6. Bravo, seriously. It’s hard to talk about the aftermath of bat-shit crazy relationships, and how being a lesbian factors into all of that. Thanks for finding a way to get it out there!

    As much as I love my friends who happen to be hetero, this is one point that I’ve always had a tough time explaining: that “as much as you’d like to see me in festive wear, and as much as I’d enjoy shopping for it with you, what’s the point if I don’t get the same rights that you do”? Civil unions are not the same. Declaring a marriage privately is not the same. Because if the relationship fails, I have no safety net in the eyes of the law. Some “rights” I could purchase from a lawyer if I could afford to. Some I could not. How is this equal?

    Using Tila Tequila is effective because she is someone we’re all familiar with, we’ve just read the AS interview, and it supports the “what if things go bad?” argument, (unfortunately associated with fame, regardless of gender).

    In short, loved this!

  7. ME! I’m a reliable source on Tila/Casey! Life is weird.

    I really think if Tila were a different/more likable person, more people would be making these great points.

    • Also, if she hadn’t been so Tila about it. When she took to the twitter with her grief in the way she has…a lot of her tweets are very “methinks the lady doth protest too much” about her and Casey’s love. And seem very attention whoring.

      Grief makes you crazy, I know. After my mother died, I told pretty much anyone who would listen. Doughnut shop: “What can I get you?” “My mother is dead! And a danish.” “…” But online, we have time to think things over before we post them, and can erase them when we really we are acting nuts. When mom died, I did tell people online. So they wouldn’t be concerned when I went away for a while. But what Tila is doing strikes people, including myself, as using this as an opportunity for attention.

      I also predict she will be dating men again.

      • You know, I agree with you about that. But then I think underneath it all lies a real person and considering who/how/what she is..I feel for her. I don’t know. Real love or not, death of someone close is hard. She may be Tila Tequila but everyone could use some support now. Who does she have now?

      • Then again, as you said… grief makes you do crazy things, and everyone’s process is different.

        I dunno. I feel very conflicted about this whole thing. I never really took the chick seriously, tbh, but I was raised to assume the best about people and in this situation I kind of have to revert to it…

      • I think someone made a really good point when autostraddle first posted about Casey’s death; Tila’s built her career out of the internet. Actually it was Elise and this is what she said:

        “re: who would ever think “I must tweet this,” when their fiancee dies?
        Tila Tequila would. The girl has built her entire life around offering herself up whole for media consumption. I doubt it would ever even occur to her to do otherwise at this point. That’s not even a knock against her. I just don’t think she has any concept of personal privacy or an internal life as the rest of us would know it.”


        • Oh. My. God. An Autostraddle insider has quoted me. Approvingly! My life is complete.

          But seriously, yeah. Tila. Girl. Count me among those who agree she’s attention seeking, but in a desperately lonely, has-no-other-idea-how-to-connect-with-people-or-express-her-feelings sort of way. It makes me sad.

      • Yeah I actually have no issue with the fact that she is tweeting her grief. She doesn’t have anyone else to talk to, it makes sense. Especially b/c her career is built on her personality. She is selling HERSELF. She’s not even an actress, she has built her career around being HER, and just ’cause the writing comes out quicker now doesn’t mean it’s any less confessional than the writing on grief that’s been done since the beggining of time.

        As a personal blogger, I know when shitty stuff happened to me my first instinct was to blog it on autowin. Well my first instinct was to tweet. You crave sympathy and you need to feel that other people are there even when someone you love hurts you or dies.

        That was how I knew to communicate my feelings and pain. It was easier to me even than talking to friends. I restrained myself only b/c I was afraid that people would do what they always do to women, which seems to be a simultaneous disgust/interest — how dare you air your personal laundry online/letmeseethatshirtrightnow.

        Hell, my Dad died 14 years ago and I still wish it was tattooed on my forehead. JUST SO YOU KNOW THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED TO ME AND THIS IS WHERE IT STILL HURTS–> [arrow tattoo to my heart]

        Tila, quite simply, has no one else to talk to. Whether this is her fault or not is probably more damning than the format she is using to communicate.

        • “You crave sympathy and you need to feel that other people are there even when someone you love hurts you or dies.”
          This is what I’ve thought about Tila’s behavior all along. Yeah it’s fucking crazy, and normal people probably wouldn’t tweet this stuff, but normal people usually have at least one reliable loved one to talk to. It’s very possible that Tila doesn’t have that. Major respect to Riese for taking a sketchy situation and pointing out the real issues that society should take from it. Criticizing isn’t going to help anyone and it’s not going to make Tila Tequila go away so, trying to get people to understand the problems this couple might have faced is a much more productive use of our time than just calling them names of something.
          Also, only Riese could make so many people comment on anything related to Tila Tequila.

          • *Correction: Only Riese could make so many people, who normally couldn’t care less about celebrity drama, comment on something related to Tila Tequila.

  8. Pingback: The Lawless Netherworlds of Gay Relationships in The Ballad of … | MyGaySpot

  9. Oh gosh Riese I read this about 10 times and this is by far my favorite post ever written on autostraddle, you made so many good points that I can’t even sit and pin-point them, I let my girlfriend read it who has a degree in philosophy and thinks its fun to debate everything and even she thought it was outstanding, I’m going to link this post to my site soon, u are now my favorite poster–that is all

    • Aw, thanks! And yeah philosophy majors are always really good at making arguments so her liking it means a lot to me too! Thank you that is alL!

  10. im gay, but i dont really see gay marriage as the same as straight marriage. I live in Toronto and obviously know a lot of gay couples, but of the very very few that take the opportunity ( since 2006 nationwide and 2003 in Toronto specifically) to get married, most seem to be in open relationships. Now, its clear that some straight couples sleep around together, i would bet that 95 % do not. In long term gay relationships though it seems that 95% do sleep around together. In Canada, only about 5% of gays get married, so 95% of them do not marry, the gay marriage rate is actually going down. This is the same in Spain, Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Massachusetts. Its just not an insitutition that most gays want to participate in and when they do, a large percentage of them engage in extra martial affairs openly.

    • To be fair, though, I think marriage statistics in general are different in Canada. I don’t live there, but my impression is that it’s much less the norm for any couple, gay or straight, to get married just because they’ve been together a long time, whereas in the US it’s such a cultural norm that it really is a pretty basic right. Correct me if I’m wrong, though.

      • I do not think you’re wrong, at all.

        Marriage really is not as much of a thing in Canada as it is in the US.

        Obviously, Canada being a much more liberal nation plays a role. And our only real nation-wide tradition is hockey (which, total side note, I am freaking out about right now because I cannot find a bar in Manila, where I live, that will agree to play the olympic gold medal hockey game for me and I HAVE NEVER MISSED WATCHING A GOLD MEDAL HOCKEY GAME). Plus common-law couples in Canada have the same legal protections and rights (like all of them) as married couples, and a couple only needs to live together for one year in order to declare common-law (ONE YEAR!).

        So living together un-wed isn’t going to hurt you financially, legally, etc. in Canada like it would it the US. Which is maybe a good argument for why marriage still means something, is something special, cause we are still doing it in Canada when we really don’t need to be for any reason other than it being something special (and an excuse for a party, right?).

        • Yeah, I get the same impression about Australia (I’m an American ex-pat). Even most of my hetero friends aren’t getting married because the de-facto benefits are good enough for their purposes. (And those benefits cover me and my partner too, yay.)

        • the common law thing varies province to province. like i’m pretty sure it’s 2 years in quebec. still not that long, though. i’ve had roommates for that long.

      • Yeah, Canada has a much stronger tradition of common-law couplehood. Especially in our cities, owning property together is the much more important signifier of a “serious” relationship than a marriage. With our insane property prices, it’s way harder to buy a condo or a house than to get married.

        In Quebec, this trend is even stronger than the rest of Canada. Not only are there fewer married couples, there’s actually a word for a common-law partner that is probably the most widely used term to describe one’s partner/spouse in French Canada – “conjoint”. It means “conjoined” but without the connotations of Siamese twins, and I think it’s actually a shame we don’t have a word like this in English, that easily refers to “the one I spend my life with”.

        This article definitely reinforces why it’s so important for gays in the US to get legal recognition.

        But there’s something else that’s nagging at me with this article. I think Tila would be getting much more sympathy if she were actually playing the role of a widow. In the court of popular opinion, that’s as, if not more, important than legally being a widow. In a way we’re blending two issues here; 1) the legal rights Tila has on Casey’s property because they had a same-sex relationship, and 2) the expectation Tila has to sympathy in an overwhelmingly heterosexual society. Obviously 2) is built for most people on 1), the legal foundation of a hetero relationship, but not entirely. I think if Tila had acted in the ways we consider “right” for a widow she would have garnered much more sympathy, and much less vitriol. But she hasn’t – she’s been tweeting nonstop and incoherently, and she’s acting in a way that seems tacky, because we aren’t used to getting tweets from people’s grief. Think about what Western culture respects in a widow/widower – stoicism, emotion in specific appropriate displays of grief (like at a funeral), modest black clothing, and most of all, privacy – down to a veil or sunglasses.

        I think if any straight woman had acted like Tila in the past few days, people also would have dismissed her as classless. (Especially the bizarre photo shoot out in the yard.) It could be that Tila doesn’t have any trustworthy people she can share her grief with and she needs Twitter. But it’s the worst possible medium if you want to be taken seriously.

        • I absolutely agree with everything you’re saying about her behavior. Part of my argument here is that if she was a straight woman dating a man doing the exact same thing, Casey’s people would be legally required to deal with her anyhow. I don’t think this lawlessness has influenced her behavior — I honestly am not sure if she even has thought about it herself.

          But what I’m trying to say is that “for better or for worse” if she was a man they’d have to deal with her in all her obnoxious glory. And predicating that fact, if she really is as terrible for Casey as her friends are claiming, they would’ve been obligated to intervene sooner, knowing that Tila could possibly be obtaining legal ties to Casey.

          • If Tia was a man and they were living together and NOT legally married then Casey’s people would not be legally required to deal with her. It is this ‘piece of paper’ that legitimizes a relationship, not the gender. (IMHO)
            p.s. you continually amaze me and fill me with pride!

    • I think your stats maybe wrong – for the UK at least, there is 1 gay union for each 4 straight unions. Belgian figures are even higher. But even if your data were correct, we don’t know what is the cause and what is the effect. I think at least some people become gay or straight according to whether they are inclined to marry or not. If they want to marry, they tend to be straight. If they don’t, they have less trouble coming out to themselves. I think the “real” percentage of the actually gay population will only be known when gays will have the same rights and the same social rewards that straight people have.

      In short, what I mean is, you will never know for sure how “gay people” behave, until they are free to choose from all the opportunities that are available to straight people.

    • First of all, I agree with the others who have already said that views of marriage are very different in the US. I’m not familiar with Canada, but it has definitely been completely different discussing marriage with my French students. So few of them feel marriage is necessary or dream of their wedding day and dress while so many of my friends are already married (at 24) and I *many* have at least ideas of what they want the Big Day to be like. We simply expect marriage still much more often than in other places.

      But my next question would have to be, how much of this attitude towards marriage you’ve discussed (which I should note contrasts sharply to my gay friends) has to do with the option being so recent?
      If you haven’t grown up with the idea that marriage is an option for you, not expecting to get married, it isn’t surprising that even once the right is available you are less inclined to take it. I don’t know that this points to a fundamental difference between gay and straight people, but perhaps a learned one that has developed out of a marginalized culture. How will these statistics look in 20 years for a generation of gays that has grown up knowing for certain that they could one day marry?

  11. It’s things like this that make me just a little more comfortable (as unsettling as the topic may be) — knowing that although we are here in the middle of such choatic turmoil, I am sharing this space with some of the most intelligent, intellectual, and well thought out people. All of you guys, Riese, the whole Autostraddle team, we the commenters and participants, we’re if nothing else, very aware. Which is rare in these parts today. This whole article is beautiful simply because it itself is real. It’s all the truth. The kind of truth that hurts but needs to be acknowleged, these are the sort of truths that I know need to be seen, read, or heard. These are the things I want to site when trying to help someone on the outside understand what it’s like to be here. For every ignorant bystander who clearly has no idea why any of us feel so strongly about the differences in the amount of rights we have. This is gold.
    I was waiting on this one.
    Thank you, Riese.

  12. Thank you. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.

    You just managed to put together all the vague amorphous “but what about…” thoughts in my mind together in such a beautiful way that I’m left sitting here stunned. Amazing.

  13. Sweet merciful shit.

    Amazing piece, Riese. I feel like this was my “Official Strategy Guide for Dealing with Conflicting Feelings about Tila Tequila”.

    While TT’s response hasn’t exactly been the graceful mourner’s and “good for the movement”, is it any less legitimate? I kind of picture her as a tiny version of Russell Crowe in “Gladiator”…”ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED??” She’s alone to navigate this new “netherworld”. She’s flailing because she has no other form of defense.

    Marriage is so convoluted. In the U.S., it’s not just a label, it is a legitimate legal issue. But it’s almost as if we don’t/won’t know what the hell to do with it once we get it. We’ve spent so long MacGyvering without official instruction, do we, would we, know how to survive in a “normal and legal” relationship?

    Gays: We can play by ear, but we can’t read sheet music…

  14. The whole thing just makes me really sad. Sad because people are so insensitive, sad because we have to question the legitimacy of their relationship, sad because people question the legitimacy of all gay relationships.

  15. BTW I want gay marriage really only because when I am 60 year old I want to marry a hot young 20-something who will marry me only for the money.

    See, men have good reasons to work and become rich, and I don’t!

    j/k ;)

    • It’s like the conservatives keep telling us, the economy only works when capitalists have incentives to succeed. Lesbian trophy wives are good for America!

      • LOL how are we women supposed to WANT to work if we can’t marry another woman? Seriously, it makes you realize there’s not much to defend about fucking traditional straight marriage.

        Btw I am really happy this article has been written. We want the right not only to live happily ever after, but also to be dysfunctional like anyone else.


  16. This is one of those pieces that you print out, frame (lamination isn’t as classy,)and keep for reference whenever some bs treatise on gay marriage makes the news.

    Thank you Riese for talking about the stuff that rarely gets mentioned.

  17. It should go without saying that a person should be allowed to marry whomever they choose. Until the right-wing, religious fanatics in this country stop trying to control everybody else and force their “morals” down the throat of the country, there can be no real freedom in the United States. I invite you to my web pages devoted to raising awareness on this puritan attack on our freedom:

  18. From the outside this whole saga just seems too crazy. But you, Riese, you have written one of the most thought provoking articles I’ve read in a while! Thank you for this.

    “We’ve forgotten about the flipside: it’s not about the kind of relationship they’re not going to have, it’s about the Lawless Netherworld relationship style they’re consenting to have instead — the kind of relationship we have as our only choice. It is, in fact, fairly impressive solidarity.” —This point changed my life. I just had the biggest “a-ha!” moment!!

    • I freaked out with excitement when I saw the article was on metafilter! I’ve been reading the comments, thanks Tiara!

  19. While two women cannot–at present–marry in California, they can form a domestic partnership, with most of the same rights and responsibilities as marriages under state law.

    • the only thing offered by domestic partnerships is the right to benefits so you can be on each other’s work insurance. but there’s no property or joint ownership or wills or hopsital visitation or anything like that.

      • I don’t know if you meant community property, but if you are in a registered domestic partnership you do get those …

  20. Who would have thought that this messy and tragic situation would have inspired one of the best articles ever on the lack of respect given to the LGBT community. We don’t get to pick and choose who is a member of the LGBT community and often we resent anyone that does not fit what we see as a positive example. When we get down to it they are people though.

    In the first days after Tequila’s odd reactions I thought how tasteless and pathetic. Then I talked to my father, a psychiatrist, and found his reaction was surprisingly sympathetic. How could that be? His comments allowed me to see it from a different level. They are somewhat similar to yours. What he saw from Tequila is a person who has no other way of holding on to her right to grieve due to having no legal rights and not being given any respect by the family and friends of Johnson. He stated that while the character in A Single Man had been with his lover 16 years when the lover dies, the parallel exists. It is basically now that your lover is dead get lost and we will handle the grieving aspect. I don’t like a lot of the messages Tequila is putting out there but I now agree with my Dad and your post only serves the back that up for me. Handling loss like this should never come to this but, to be fair, society’s treatment of homosexuality must be considered in how it affects a response to loss.

    • Wow, fascinating! When you first start talking about your Dad agreeing, I was prepared for him to offer a diagnosis (she seems a bit manic to me right now, it’s hard to say, but something is going wrong) but I really like what he said, and what you said. Thanks for commenting!

      It’s hard for us to really know what Tila is thinking or if she even makes the connections that I did, or that your Dad did. I’m very curious how her tasteless behavior would be dealt with if she was a man or gay marriage was legal — and I think that being forced to contend with that possibility would’ve possibly offered an opportunity for Casey’s friends & families to intervene sooner if such a thing was necessary.

  21. You’re not here to defend Tila? You are giving her publicity which is tantamount to a defense.
    Wasn’t it just about a few months nwhen Tila relentlessly Tweeted about her undying love for Dani the firefighter? She Tweeted aboout how MTV drugged and manipulated her into choosing a male. Then virtually called out for Dani (as if she was unable to locate Dani using 411) instead opting to use Twitter.
    You just know that Dani is reading all of this and thankful that she dodged a bullet and wasn’t chosen by Tila.

    People just don’t walk in of of the street and BOOM! They are on the red carpet, it just doesn’t happen that way. So we must ask ourselves what kind of publicist does Tila have that these antics are suitable foor ngaining fame?

    If Tequila wants fame, then why doesn’t she and others who believe that fame comes as a result of scandal and not talent try taking acting and singing lessons? Most decent and talented performers have had some sort of formal training.

    As far as Casey Johnson, well you can njust look at her bloated face and telll something wasn’tm right. I knew it the moment I saw her with Tila on the red carpet. It’s sad that she died but Tila shouldn’t be surprised that the Johnson family has cut her out because 1: That’s what those with enormous wealth so and more importantly 2: That probably saw like the rest of the world that Tila was being an opportunist.

    It’s behavior like Tequila’s and Rosie O’Donnell’s failed mmarriage (This despite the fact that straights do the exact same thing) that provide fodder for the homophobes.

    This aricle is just filler material, Tila is not worth reporting on as she hasn’t done anythingsignificant. She’s rteally not that attractive, the fake boobs and constant scandals scream “LOOK AT Me! I don’t have anything to offer but look at me anyway!”

    I for one am over Tila Tequila.

    • I think if you had read the article closely, you would have found that it isn’t actually reporting on Tila as such. It’s using her – taking advantage of her fame rather than simply feeding into it – to make a very interesting point. You can certainly discuss someone without defending them… in fact, the point of this article is basically that marriage rights are important not just for healthy relationships but for ones that are f*cked up. How is using a relationship as an example of crazy a defense? While I don’t disagree with your feelings about Tila and her method of achieving fame, I’m not convinced we’ve just read the same article.

        • “you’re a good person.”

          Thank you I’d like to think so…I was in a relationship that lasted 15 years, how long was your last relationship? I’m an adult woman NOT a clueless tween nor an arrogant know nothing 20 something. I can smell bullshyt a mile away.

      • And I think that you need to get off of my case and let me express myself. I know that the author wasn’t speciffically reporting on Tila and Casey’s relationship. What’s wrong with you? I can read and guess what? My articulative skills garnered me a Master’s Degree.

        Instead the author used Casey and Tila as a barometer concerning the intricacies of the legality of gay marriage, which is nonsense considering that another individual already posted that they could have registered for a domestic partnership, that is IF they were serious about being together. Not using the engagement as a publicity ploy.

        Many lesbians and gays registered first fo a domestic partnership THEN when marriage was legal got married.

        NOW Back off.

        • All I meant to say by noting that it wasn’t reporting, was that the intent wasn’t to give publicity.

          And it is entirely valid to use them as an example of the legal system, even considering the domestic partnership option because in most states this is not an option, so the overall point of LGBT relationships not having legal standing still holds for most of the country. Even where domestic partnership is an option, the idea that it is less than marriage and less valid still influences attitudes and actions.

          Whether they were serious about their relationship isn’t even relevant (and not having a domestic partnership doesn’t indicate anything to me since they had only been engaged a month – how many straight couples have a one month engagement?). You can still use them as an example of how the legal option of marriage WOULD have made things different under the ASSUMPTION that they were legit in love. Only two people know the facts and one of them is dead, but interesting points about society at large can still be drawn from the hypothetical possibilities the relationship represents.

          And congrats on the MA. I’m a recent (as of yesterday) grad school dropout, so I certainly respect the work you’ve done to get yours.

          • OMG it was SO INVALID beceause it wasn’t a REAL relationship!

            Sorry folks but any adult can see that. I mean on what basis do you claim it was valid to use them as a barometer? I mean what is your age? Have you ever been in an adult relationship? Because if you had then you’d know by looking at Tila’s actions over the past few months that ALL she is about is publicty nothing more. The Woman cannot even grieve her “fiance’s” death in a healthy manner and what do the youngin’s on this site say: “My father is a psychiatrist Blah Blah Blah “ugly grieving” yadda yadda Bullshyt.

            Grow up, smell the coffee and get real. ,The girl’s father who defended Tila didn’t give a diagnosis but I will. Tila is a malignant narcissist and will do or say whatever is necessary.

            You even contradict your self by citing the irrelevance of whether or not Casey and Tequila were serious about each other. Um YESS that is important because it is folly to think straights are going to back down when we abuse the system as much as they do.

            When one is striving for rights the onus is on them to demand these rights and do it in a fashion that exhibits high moral standing. Just look at civil rights marches of the 60’s just look at Ghandi. We can’t abuse a right we have not yet been granted.

            Of course that’s not fair but a play homophobes use to deny us. Legislators are NOT going to legalize anything when people act like Tila does flitting from one person to the next with nary a care in the world. Yes bstraights do it also but they CAN because they have the status of legal marriage already ascribed to them.

            Again exactly how old are you? Seriously.

          • Relationships come in all shapes and sizes. I don’t think anyone except the two (or more) parties involved can make the determination as to whether or not they’re in one.
            Also, as mentioned, personal attacks really aren’t welcome on the site.
            Amazing piece, Riese.

          • “Tila is a malignant narcissist and will do or say whatever is necessary.” Are you sure you’re not talking about yourself? If you are “over” Tila Tequila, why are you here still talking about her?

          • All this reply has succeeded in is getting “what’s my age again?” by Blink182 stuck in my head (I was in 8th grade when that was a single, if that helps your illogical fascination with age).

            No, reminding straight people that we’re as crazy as they are isn’t the argument that will change hearts and minds, but that doesn’t make it any less true that we NEED marriage equality to protect our rights and health in the crazy relationships too.

            OF COURSE raising this issue isn’t akin to the Salt March to Dandi, but no one is saying that it does bear any resemblance to the key factors in any civil rights victory. No one said that talking about this will win us equality, but it does a damn fine job of illustrating one more reason why equality matters. And there is nothing wrong with that.

            Sometimes you have to acknowledge the dark reasons too.

            But since it’s clear that you are not here for constructive argument (which is too bad, because there are probably interesting points being missed thanks to this distraction) and DemiArianna has already said everything that needs to be said, I won’t waste any more of my time or Autostraddle’s space.

          • ohhh me 2 re: being in grade 8 when “what’s my age again” came out. Among many other better songs, grade 8 was also “hit me baby one more time”, “meet virginia,” (FTW), and “pretty fly for a white guy”. oh the late nineties.

    • Sorry, I can’t believe I’m actually responding to this; but you’re incorrect in one of the statements you made about Dani — Dani was on the Sweet cruise when Tila tweeted that, as were we. When asked by OurScene TV; Dani said she was happy for Tila if she came out, and that if Tila reached out to her she’d love to have a drink with her – “(Or just me, ’cause she doesn’t drink)”— and in response to Tila’s communication methods: “I do know that being in the spotlight can be stressful, so maybe she’s just trying to reach out? It’s funny how we can adore a celebrity one day, but totally turn our backs on them the next when they show themselves as just being as human as we are. Whatever the case may be, I hope she is happy today.”

    • If only every celebrity couple handled the public side of their break up/divorce the way that Rosie & Kelli O’Donnell handled theirs (see also Cherry Jones & Sarah Paulson). I know they are out there, but people who take break ups as an excuse for homophobia are rather pathetic, especially when they are handled in such administrable and refreshing ways as we’ve seen recently from the LGBTQ community.

      • I agree. I think Rosie & Kelli are both amazing women. I could never say a bad word about what they’ve done for the community.

  22. “due to Tila’s apparent struggles conjugating verbs, she announced, “I’m pregnant!” when she really meant, “I’m going to be a surrogate parent for my brother!”

    Are you trying to allude that Tila doesn’t speak English well? How racist is that? She is quite literate and her “I’m pregnant” outburst was nothing m,ore than an attempt to gain attention and garner headlines. She’s so literate in fact that Casey’s ex-girlfriend model Jasmine Leonard is threatening a lawsuit concerning libeloue statements Tequila has written.

    Casey Johnson was indeed cut off from her family but they still took care of her, she just didn’t have access to all of the wealth. They controllled the wealth and gave Casey a stipend. I know some rich kids this has happened toso . So it wasn’t like Casey was dirt poor. If Casey Johnson was living in a guesthouse, maybe she squandered her monthly stipend. The ring was probably real or an expensive facsimile but here’s the thing: I question Casey’s state of mind not to mention Tila’s.

    Look I would be able to empathize more with Tila if she actually took some real mourning time off camera and did it privately then reappeared. Notwithstanding the klegality of gay marriage, real people don’t mourne

    • I’m suggesting that Tila doesn’t speak English well because she doesn’t. Have you read her tweets or blogs? It has nothing to do with race — the assumption that a reference to her English skills is a race issue actually totally blows my mind and never occurred to me. Besides it was tongue-in-cheek and I as mostly kidding.
      You come on this website once a week or so specifically to yell at me. Even if you’re ever right, it’s a bit like the boy who cried wolf. Personal attacks aren’t welcome here, and I resent your tone as well as your shots at the physical appearance of Casey and Tila, as we do not criticize women’s physical appearances on this website. It’s irrelevant.
      If you don’t care about Tila Tequila, and refuse to see that actually a lot of the points you make are addressed here, and you think this is just “filler” (that doesn’t even make sense?) then “Back off.”

  23. I kind of wish they could’ve married so you all can see the folly is Tila’s behavior, what I’m saying is that it woul have been a rollercoaster of dysfunction.

    • as, until now, an outsider to this tangential back-and-forth and a close reader of the article in question… i’d like to offer re: “urban sapphic”‘s last comment: I THINK THAT’S PART OF THE POINT. all relationships are dysfunctional to some extent (from the occasional fight over $$$, sex, whatever … all the way out to Tila’s own special publicity-driven crazy). but tila and casey WEREN’T married and their relationship played out in a lawless realm where negative influences reign. in this country, marriage — moreso than domestic partnerships — gives a relationship legitimacy and psychological weight/obligation that can literally stabilize relationships and encourage couples to work through their dysfunction. marriage anchors a couple’s commitment to one another outside of themselves. law, God, $$$ are all involved and it’s not just about selfish feelings and the “what have you done for me lately” mentality. still, i’m not saying (nor do I believe the author was trying to say) that tila and casey would have gotten their shit together had they been able to marry or that their public personas would change…. but HAD they married…. there would have been other legalities at play that would completely change the story surrounding johnson’s death and force a different dialogue within the media. it’s an interesting and, i’d venture, IMPORTANT hypothetical to consider — one that elevates the tila-casey story out of the tabloids and into a framework for important social commentary. bravo riese.

    • thank you mere84.

      Urban Sapphic, your comments never do you or anyone else any favors. The fact that your last comment is exactly one of the points made in Riese’s article is only one of the many examples of this.

    • Dear Urban Sapphic,

      You quite clearly have some comprehension issues. Either that or I’m confident that you didn’t read this article in its entirety. You throwing around your degrees mean nothing to anyone at the end of the day, especially if you can’t even project your point properly. It’s like the whole entire package of ideas here went over your head, what cloud is blocking your vision?

      Riese was never giving Tila publicity, which is why you’ve clearly missed the memo here. And if she were, please explain to me how publicity is “tantamount” to a defense? If that were true any criticizing article you can find in any tabloid is defending the subject it slanders which is in itself a contradiction.

      The difference between you with your flashy degree and the people here on the Autostraddle team is that they make sure they know what they’re talking about before they go and spew it. Your points are obsolete shreds of weighted opinions and nothing more. The point that people of “enormous wealth” cut people out is nothing but a preconceived notion you’ve developed from God knows where, not a fact.

      Tila isn’t being reported on here, and your criticisms have nothing to do with anything being said in the article. Because you think she has attention issues (as most of us do, really) is not a reason to dismiss the topic, her engagement and loss had nothing to do with her fake boobs. Just so you know.

      How can you order someone to “get off of [your] case” when your initial appearance in this post was quite accusatory and directed toward its author?

      It is not everyone’s obligation to take the route of civil union before marriage. As far as I know, Tila and Casey never announced where they would decide to get married, they could have planned to get married in Canada and let it be as it may from there on. They could have indeed planned on getting a civil union in fact, but decided to just refer to each other as fiance, to play along. No one wants to constantly remind themself that we can’t exactly get married just yet, every time they decide to mention their future life partner. They had not been engaged that long, it’s not that surprising that they hadn’t sealed the deal yet so who knows what they were going to do? You certainly don’t.

      I’d like to make it a point that once Riese ever so gracefully shut you down on the Dani tip you went back to reach into the article to grab something else you can TRY to make a spectacle out of, and I’d like to say I’m sorry for your unfortunate loss. The fact that you automatically assumed the grammar remark was racist is actually a little racist of you. The statement that “her ‘I’m pregnant’ outburst was nothing m,ore than an attempt to gain attention and garner headlines” [sic] is probably true, but Riese joking about her grammar issues remains valid because truthfully she does have some. You can see that as clear as day if you ever read something extensive that she’s written. Whose defending who now? It seems you need to sit and think some more before you fire off at people.

      In the respected words of Bette and Tina’s coaching, projected by Alice:
      Step off, bitch.

  24. Fantastic article and very intelligent….taking the Casey and Tila relationship and making very valid points about gay marriage takes a bit of brilliance…well done.
    I would like to add a personal bit here on the domestic partnership, civil union, gay marriage debate. I am a US citizen who fell in love with a Canadian girl. Canada became our safe place and our only place to live. The US federal law does not recognize my legal marriage. What does that mean? My wife can not immigrate anywhere in the good ole US of A. She can not even tell immigration that she is married to me or there is a really strong chance she will not be allowed to enter the country. The only option we had was for me to immigrate to Canada. Canada is great. Lots of US citizens joke about moving to Canada if things in the US get any worse. The truth is, I don’t have that choice. I was living in NYC and that is where we wanted to stay, but could not.
    So when people say things like, “civil unions and domestic partnership gives you guys the same rights”… ummm, it’s bullshit. There are stories of gay partnerships of twenty plus years being torn apart over immigration. Sad that some creepy man can get a mail-order bride from Russia that he is never met and they can live in wedded legal bliss. US immigration is tough, but hetro’s at least have the option.
    So, if you want equality and justice for all, MOVE TO CANADA!(but can i suggest you buy a really warm coat)
    Keep fighting the good fight people! We shall overcome.

    • This is why I’m so glad that Australia has a brain – I was able to move here because my “interdependent partner” is an Australian citizen. I fear how awful it would have been if things were the other way around.

      • so much happens when i run away for a day! riese, this is so good and, kind of like molly, i can’t think of much to say. i don’t think about how laws inform my reality very much, but this made it more clear than ever.

    • SHERRI!!!!! We miss you here in America, and i think that’s a good case for gay marriage too.

      The mail order bride thing kills me. There are so many problems with how we handle marriage in this country, and even historically in culture how women have been treated as property, that anyone with half a brain might see that allowing marriage free of these roles might actually change the world in a really GOOD way.

  25. This really hits home. Last week my girlfriend made her status “married” on Facebook. When I had to confirm it I hesitated because we aren’t REALLY married. In my heart we are, but what does that prove to anyone if something were to happen to me?

  26. I have nothing to add to what has already been brilliantly said but I want this article to reach 250 comments, so. I want this article to TAKE OVER THE INTERNET.

  27. I live in South Africa where gay marriage is legal, but that doesn’t necessarily make things easier. Its sad, but the courts often give the gays a hard time over legalities and many straight people don’t take gay marriages seriously. Making it legal has in no way made it any more socially acceptable. As gay people we are equal on a legal level, but are unfortunately often still looked down upon on a social level. I dream of a future where we can live equally and without judgement, but until then we have to fight to make that dream a reality.

    On another note, great article Riese. I like how you pointed out that gay and straight relationships both exist with dysfunctionalities and issues, and how a darker side of how people use marriage laws exists. Its an interesting insight into what marriage really means to people these days. It also reminded me of how when Sam Ronson and Lindsay Lohan were together, a lot of people blamed their problems on the fact that they were gay. It was stupid and ignorant, because by turning the page in the same tabloid,one could find a straight couple going through the same crazy shit, yet they chose to ignore it and focus on ‘the sins of the gays’. This article raised a lot of good points and proved to be very thought-provoking. Thank you (and sorry for the long-ass comment!)

  28. WAY late to the party, but…

    I was just thinking about Angelina Jolie and how she’s bi, and could have ended up with a girl instead – and I don’t think it should surprise anyone that she’s making the choice she is. I mean, it purely is a matter of a particular set of circumstances (like all relationships are) that Angelina wound up with Brad and not with Jenny or one of her other female partners. It’s weirdly unfair that one of those relationships is celebrated and recognized by society, and one isn’t. It hits home for us in a way it doesn’t with straight people, because we live that difference. It’s personal, because we could very easily have wound up on the other end of the line. So I feel that if I were in her shoes, I’d make the same choice.

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