Monday, June 17, 2013

Meet Michelle Dicinoski, Author of "Ghost Wife" - A Memoir about Same-Sex Marriage, with a Binational Perspective

by Kathy Drasky

Author Michelle Dicinoski
Being part of an American=Australian same-sex binational marriage, I spend a fair bit of time Down Under with my wife, whose work - and visa requirements - bring her back home several times a year. On my last trip I learned about the memoir, Ghost Wife, by Australian writer Michelle Dicinoski, who is married to an American woman, now living in exile. It took us a while to catch up, but when we did, Michelle agreed to answer a number of questions about her binational marriage and its basis for Ghost Wife.

Out4Immigration: At Out4Immigration, we always ask people to tell us their story – well, you wrote a book! Can you tell us how you met your wife – and at what point you realized that being in a same-sex binational relationship was not going to be easy, immigration-wise?

Michelle: I met Heather in 2004, when we were both studying at the University of Queensland, in Brisbane. Heather grew up in Florida, and also lived for several years in Massachusetts. I grew up in Queensland, and had never traveled overseas when I first met Heather. From the moment our relationship became serious, we were definitely worried about what would happen after Heather’s visa ended. Would she have to return to the United States without me? What would that mean for our relationship? We were lucky because she had a three-year student visa, which gave us time to get to know each other and even to marry (in Canada). But as it turned out, Heather’s application for permanent residency in Australia was approved quite smoothly, so we were able to stay put.

Out4Immigration: Can you tell us about the Australian laws that allow you and your wife to live together there, in spite of an Australian "DOMA-like" ban against same-sex marriage?  

Michelle: Although Australia does not recognize same-sex marriage, it has for many years recognized same-sex relationships as "interdependent relationships" for purposes of migration. As long as couples can prove that they have a genuine, ongoing relationship of some standing, foreign nationals who are in relationships with an Australian seem generally to be approved (after a longish assessment period) to migrate to Australia. Most of the people I know of who've done this have been American or European, though; I am not sure if it's harder if you’re from another region.

The title of your book is Ghost Wife. What does that originate from?

While preparing for our wedding trip, I heard a story about ghost marriages. In these marriages, which have been relatively common in China, a living person can be married to the spirit of a dead person. I was fascinated by this idea; marriage has been so many different things, at different times and in different places. Most of all, I was provoked by the idea that in some places, ghosts can marry, when for Heather and me, our marriage itself would be a kind of ghost. We would return from Canada married, but not. As I write in the memoir, I began to wonder: "Would we forever ghost at the edges of things – families, laws, histories? There is a certain mystique in invisibility, but not when it's thrust upon you. Sometimes you just want to be seen." So I decided to write about our wedding as a way of making it visible. As I put it in Ghost Wife, if our countries refused to acknowledge our wedding, "I'd document what happened in an irrefutable way: I'd write about the wedding and the journey leading up to it. It would be a permanent record. A testament. Proof."

Writing a memoir like this had to be cathartic. Has it helped you deal better with the inequality of the situation – your marriage not being recognized in either Australia or the U.S. ? The inability of your wife to sponsor you to live in America due to our unfair immigration laws?

Michelle: It hasn't really provided a release in any way, but the writing process has been fascinating. Perhaps the best part was including the stories of other queers who also lived in marriage-like relationships, but 50 or 100 or 150 years ago. I map their stories onto the places that Heather and I visit — Melbourne, Boston, Toronto, Niagara Falls — to show that queer lives have always existed, although they have often been suppressed or denied. My hope is that by telling these stories — Heather’s and mine, and the stories of other "ghost wives" — I will help increase awareness of our situation, so that one day I can live in the U.S. with Heather, if that is where our lives take us. Especially as our parents age, questions of residency become increasingly important. We should be able to return to care for Heather's parents and other family members, if they need us to, but at the moment we can't, not as a couple. It ends up being a choice between partner and family, and no one should have to make that choice.

How does your wife feel about living in exile?

I write a little about the United States being closed to us, and how strange it is that Heather has left behind another whole life there, a life that we can only return to sporadically. Although she misses her family and friends, Heather is very happy in Australia. Still, we would both love the opportunity to live in the U.S. as a couple.

This is a two-part question. If DOMA is repealed and your marriage is suddenly recognized by the U.S. government, what do you think you and your wife will do? And, if America suddenly has marriage equality – do you think Australia will soon follow suit?

If DOMA is repealed, the first thing Heather and I will do is have a big party! An international, multi-time zone party involving Skype and champagne. As for whether we will move, that's another question; we just moved interstate last year, and that was traumatic enough. I think our cats might disown us if we moved again any time soon. If the U.S. suddenly has marriage equality, the pressure on Australia will certainly increase. In fact, the recent change [marriage equality] in New Zealand seems to have increased people's belief that it is just a matter of time, and that Australia must change soon.

What has been the reaction to Ghost Wife in Australia?

The reaction has been wonderful. The reviews have been so positive, and I have been thrilled to see the book supported by both the mainstream and queer media.

Out4Immigration: What are you working on now?

Michelle: I am working on some poems right now, thanks to a grant from the Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarships, and also some non-fiction. I am looking forward to settling into the next long project. First, though, I’m focused on some upcoming travel this summer to the Tin House Writers’ Workshop in Portland, Oregon; and the amazing writer’s retreat Hedgebrook, on Whidbey Island in Washington.

Thanks, Michelle! Readers looking to purchase a copy of Ghost Wife, should visit, where it is available for Kindle. Other digital sources can be found at the book's publisher Black Inc. For those living in Australia or New Zealand, you can visit your local bookstore to purchase Ghost Wife in print.

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