Several years later, the Rhinelander marriage officially ended with a divorce in Las Vegas

Several years later, the Rhinelander marriage officially ended with a divorce in Las Vegas

Life after the trial was depressing for both Alice and Leonard

Upon divorce, Leonard became a recluse. Even before the trial began, Leonard was shunned and excluded him from all “clubs” to which he had previously belonged, and disowned by his family, barred from the family business until he obtained the divorce. The Detroit Free Press reported his removal from the New York Social Register, on which his family was listed: “Kip stands outside the fold the symbol of a family that is proud shame. Kip now stands on a social register par with his Negro bride, who last spring sailed into the March supplement of the register for one fleeting cruise under her husband’s colors, but was dropped overboard in the next edition.”

In the final end, Leonard never recaptured the life he had before Alice and certainly not the type of life he had with Alice. He died at the age that is young of in February of 1936 without ever falling in love again and without remarrying.

Alice lived until she was 89 years old, but never partnered with another man. In 1989, when Alice passed away, she left us with one last reminder of just how she really “died” more than sixty years earlier in 1925 at her infamous trial’s end: she buried herself with a headstone that read “Alice J. Rhinelander.”

Such was my understanding of “passing” in marriage in it: I knew to what lengths Alice Rhinelander had gone, despite being deeply in love, not to have to endure it before I had any personal experience. Yet even the most heartrending of tales often fail to bring home the enormity of day-in, day-out anxiety and deception that “passing”–whether for interracial couples or for homosexual couples–entails.

Before my husband, Jacob, and I left for South Africa at the end of 2012, we pondered whether there would be any moments and, if so, how many moments there would be when we would have to pass — not as individuals of one race, as Alice and Leonard did — but instead as friends, rather than the married couple we are. Friends had relayed stories of difficulties traveling to this country so recently freed of apartheid, and we wanted to be cautious.

What I ultimately discovered during our time in South Africa is that I still had much to learn about the damages that stem from passing. Peggy McIntosh in 1988 wrote a groundbreaking piece about white privilege. I was, in many ways, oblivious to the full extent of the heterosexual privilege that I possessed in the United States, even as a member of an interracial marriage. Although Jacob and I had experienced the fears of physically being pulled apart by strangers on the street, we, unlike the famous interracial Lovings, who took their case to the Supreme Court in 1967, had never been arrested, jailed, and threatened with a lengthy prison sentence.

As I was recently re-reading an excerpt from my journal from South Africa, I was reminded of just how little, then, I understood about the psychological harms of long-term passing. I had underestimated the severe toll that is emotional of an important part of my authentic self, my life partner. I had miscalculated the exhaustion that would come from having to think carefully about every look and touch that he and I might venture to share. I had taken too lightly how passing sends implicit internal messages that one’s relationship is wrong. I had undervalued the freedom I had, to some extent, come to take for granted. Describing the fears I wrote in relevant part that I experienced about being part of an interracial couple just during my husband’s and my travels down to South Africa:

I am more wary here than in most places in the United States about stealing a touch, a glance, a kiss with my love. . In my head, that Jacob was imagined by me and I would simply refrain from public displays of affection to avoid any harms . I had imagined passing only in snapshots rather than marathon hours. As self-conscious about public displays of affection–stole a glance with Jacob, gave him a knowing smile, engaged in a short snuggle, or received quick sweet pecks on the lips. . until I had to weigh each and every moment of potential intimacy with deliberate thought, and at all times, with fear of what any small action could bring upon us, I did not realize how often I–one who likes to think of herself . .

Re-reading my journal that is own brought to my soul, particularly when I reached a section recalling Jacob’s and my awkward indecision in an airport over our custom of having him hold both our passports. “No, keep it,” I had said. “Be safe. If anyone tries to attack you, tell them you have to make sure your wife gets her passport back. . . .”It is impossible to appreciate, until it is thrown into question, the simple importance of just getting back safely to be with the one you love.

Jacob and I both laughed out loud at our silliness, our paranoia, and our “exaggerated fears.” After our jokes, our natural instincts were to hug each other that I pulled away from or that I told myself we both pulled away from because we were so out in the open. . as we laughed, moving just as naturally towards a kiss, a kiss . .

I have a friend that is close I’ll call her Stephanie. She is in a relationship with a woman who cannot come out for fear of losing her job. I have had many conversations with Stephanie they can ever end their silence about and suppression of their love — their “passing. about her and her girlfriend’s fears of being exposed, their close calls, and the uncertainty of not knowing when” As the experience of Carla Hale, a well-regarded, veteran school teacher who was recently fired after she simply named her long-term partner in her mother’s obituary has shown us, their fears are real.

Alice Rhinelander passed originally by denying her blackness. I passed by denying my marriage. Stephanie and her love are passing both by denying their relationship and denying their sexual orientation.

Not too long ago, my friend Stephanie told me that another close friend remarked, listening to her laments, “This, too, shall pass.” When I heard this popular saying, one that I have heard used and have used myself so often to provide hope for others in despair, repeated in this context, I stopped in my tracks. The words rang differently in my head. They felt uneasy. All I could think was “These two should not have to pass.”

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