Monday, May 15, 2006

Are We Going to the Chapel?

Over the weekend, Emperor Palpetine Pope Benedict XVI issued yet another statement calling for Christians to defend opposite-sex marriage as a “pillar of humanity.” He predicted the usual doom and chaos should insane concepts like “civil unions” take root in more nations. He concluded by noting that no matter how many starving and abused children exist in the world, gay folk should never, ever be allowed to give one of them a loving home.

All of this talk about same-sex marriage reminds me that we, as a queer community, don’t seem to be discussing this fight nearly as much as hetero folk. It’s important, though, to rethink our assumptions before we get carried away by the dominant discussion over marriage.

I will offer truth in advertising: Long time readers know that I was married (without state-sanction) for eight years and that marriage ended badly. In the last year together, my liar-ex (who told many lies) pulled off a neat trick by demanding my unconditional trust at the same moments that he betrayed that trust with his many lies. The awful truth being, of course, that somebody who could be so heartless to another person’s pain was not worth my tears. Clearly I might have an ax to grind about the concept of marriage. Please take my crushing bitterness into account.

Still, I am not actually hostile to the notion of same-sex couples seeking marriage. Nor do I see it as a betrayal of the historical queer rights movement.

What concerns me is that the discussion of same-sex marriage is largely being shaped without our input. Moreover, it ignores a larger discussion about sexual freedom. For me, I imagine an ideal where individuals can negotiate the types of sexual relationships that are best for them without external pressure or risk of their basic rights. For some queer folk, serial monogamy proves the best and most ideal option. Others feel constricted by such notions and desire a different range of sexual and emotional experiences. Neither side should be expected to pay a price for their preferences.

We queer folk have forgotten some of the “liberation” bit in the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) from the sixties and seventies. In the quest to obtain gay marriage (a fight largely created for us by heteros), we have not stopped to question the value of institutional marriage. Given the divorce rate among heterosexuals, clearly “traditional marriage” has some serious problems.

Thirty years ago, many of the GLF leaders imagined their fight for gay rights as an opportunity to benefit all people, regardless of their sexuality. They saw their actions as a means to break apart the institution of marriage that had kept both queer and hetero folk imprisoned in unhappy relationships. Even in 1970-Lawrence, Kansas, the GLF issued a statement:

The new sexuality [sic] is helping to free men and women from the restrictive roles and repressive institutions of Amerika. We are letting go of these securities in an effort to grab ahold of our lives and know who we are. Gay men and women are coming out into the open to help shape this new sexuality. We being confronted by an uptight, authoritarian, racist, sexist Amerika. So the Gay Liberation Front joins other oppressed brothers and sisters of Amerika and the Third World to struggle against the nightmare and create one world of people living together.

For many of these activists, traditional heterosexual marriage represented one of the most repressive institutions that bound individuals into unequal gender roles. They explicitly rejected marriage because they believed that it connoted ownership and limited one’s love.

In many ways, queer relationships start off with some advantages over hetero relationships. Same-sex couples occupy the same gender status in society, thus they have the potential to bypass some (not all) established notions of power that permeate opposite-sex relationships. For seventies radicals, ending traditional marriage was a key part of remaking society in terms of race, gender, and economic class.

With the rise of HIV and AIDS, though, much of this language became obscured. Notions of free love seemed dangerous, if not outright deadly. Many queer folk, it turns out, also wanted the security of long-term relationships. The revolutionary rhetoric of the sixties and seventies slowly disappeared or found labels of “unrealistic” and "dated."

Now it seems the queer community has become divided over a false dichotomy. On one extreme side are those who articulate the impossibility of monogamous LTR’s as na├»ve. For this group, being queer requires a repudiation of sexual monogamy as dishonest. On the other side, proponents of gay marriage imagine that equality will only result if queer folk conform to already established notions of heterosexual marriage. Under this thinking, the more recognition that two-person-same-sex relationships achieve, the more stability all queer folk will have. They ignore the possibilities and value of other types of relationships (non-monogamous ltr’s, triads, solitary).

We are left with an almost schizophrenic vision of what our queer relationships should look like. Both the mass media and queer media give us a bundle of contradictions about how to ideally attain love and sexual gratification.

Queer folk still have a unique place to critique and undermine the more unhealthy elements of traditional marriage. Our basic desires for sex with a person (or persons) of the same sex is a revolt against society. What bonds us all together is a desire to have love. How we manifest that love, though, depends on what we want from other people.

Now that the mainstream media and the right-wing thrust the fight for gay marriage upon us, we can’t ignore it or let it go. Still, we need to be careful that we don’t trade orthodoxy and conformity for our dreams of sexual liberation for all people. Fighting for gay marriage is important because some of us want to be able to oragnize our lives in that way. We should not, though, make it the standard by which we all live our lives or assume it to be an end victory by itself. The measure of our relationships should not be their durability or compliance with existing heterosexual standards. Rather, we should measure how well we treat each other in whatever type of relationship we form.

Creating gay marriages is not revolutionary by itself. Nor is having as much sex with as many partners as possible revolutionary. What can be revolutionary, though, is guaranteeing each other the rights to do what we want with our romantic and sexual lives. We should consider how well we work to honor, love, and respect each other as queer folk and our spectrum of sexual desires.

Our relationships can still live up to the revolutionary rhetoric of the sixties and seventies. It does none of us harm to have two queer folk form a monogamous, long term relationship if that is what they want. Likewise, we are not hurt by individuals who find those types of relationships imprisoning and prefer multiple sex partners (as long as all are willing, honest, and safe).

What we can do is promise to treat each other with esteem and always work to defend the multiple ways that queer folk form relationships. We also need to do our best to honor how our queer brothers and sisters arrange their lives and acknowledge their feelings. If we show the world what respecting each other’s sexuality really means, we will win a major victory for sexual freedom.


pacalaga said...

Emperor Palpatine. I love it.
I am pro-everyone-marriage. I laugh at people who say that two men marrying makes my hetero marriage somehow "less". (What actually makes my marriage less is putting it in the same category with people who are "married in the eyes of God" and treat each other with disrespect, hurt each other, lie, abuse, etc. But I digress.)
Anyway, I feel like if Shrub and his cronies want to deny gays the right to marry, great. Then deny EVERYONE the rights granted by the government to the marrieds, and leave it up to Palpatine and the rest of the churches. As long as there are any rights given to one group and denied another group, it's discrimination, regardless of love and relationship issues.
The idea of not allowing gays to adopt disgusts me so deeply I can't even comment on it clearly. (Whenever the subject comes up I get so mad I start to make angry cat noises, and it's all downhill from there.)

Kalv1n said...

I'm pro-civil unions. For everyone. Yes, for straight people too. I think we need to separate out the religious from the secular. If gay people want to be religiously married, they already can. And I totally support the idea of polyamory for some while others it is not what they want (I never got the feeling that there was a queer perception that LTR's are not possible, but alas I am young). I think another important point is that your quote came out before the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I think that has drastically changed how queer people think about their relationships, and in my opinion, in most instances not for the better. I think you're right about the true revolution being allowing people the right to self-expression. If only we could stop being so prescriptive.

dirk.mancuso said...

I find it more than a little disturbing that the a marriage between two people whose origins can be traced back to the stautory rape of a minor (Mary Kaye Letourneau) is sanctioned by these people, but two adults of the same sex in love is objectionable.


Dorian said...

As usual, you've managed to echo many of my own thoughts. I've also been frustrated by the way that the topic of same-sex marriage was put into the national spotlight not by gays and lesbians as part of a broader discussion of civil rights but by religous and social conservaties seeking to mobilize a voter base by inventing a contentious debate. And while I think it's an issue the queer community does need to address, I think there are probably far more pressing issues to get to first.
Likewise, I'm frustrated by the insane notion that many gays and lesbians seem to have that by being as bland, boring, suburban and Republican as possible, including forcing our relationships to mirror as closely as possible those of married heterosexual couples, those in power will deign to give us our civil rights. That's just not going to happen, as much as the Andrew Sullivan's of the world might wish it would.

Anonymous said...

Marriage is a religious ceremony masquerading as a legal commitment. Every married person in this country has had his or her marriage "legalized" by virtue of a civil license. That's why divorces go through the court system, not through a church.

It's bad enough that the general American public accepts this fallacy. I'd like to see more of the "gay intelligentsia" have a serious discussion on that part of marriage--why it is a religious ceremony and why working towards civil unions is the correct path.

Frank said...

Exactly, gayprof! Yet again, our similarities in attitude and thought are downright scary.

I hope, BTW, that the lying ex hasn't soured you on men/love. That would be a shame and giving him far too much power.

GayProf said...

Frank: Thanks -- I don't think I will ever be soured on men. As for love, though, only time will tell, I suppose.

**sigh** It's the human-side of GayProf.

jeremy said...

Dan Savage on basically your last two posts:

Anonymous said...

My partner and I found this subject to be very difficult and spent a lot of time working through it before we were married here in Massachusetts. Neither of us wanted our marriage to be assimilationist nor to be modeled on het models. On the other hand, marriage has legal and social benefits that one can't escape (I think being in MA helps here as in the Commonwealth marriage is civil and secular and religous only secondarily. The Puritans and founders of the Colony were adamant about secular marriage.) We had our own marriage 'ceremony' and a major part of that was a promise not to differentiate ourselves from queer folk who haven't "married" legally or who choose not to.

The key for us was to make marriage a queer marriage and re-define it for our community and not give up what makes us who we are as queers.

It is interesting being in Massachusetts to see how gay marriage has changed the gay community and how it hasn't.

Anonymous said...

I need for someone to spell out the benefits(ie.taxes and inheritances)of marriage as it exists for heterosexuals today.Those couples wanting to share children and/or real estate seem most in need of marriage.What type of legal partnership agreements can be crafted for same sex couples? How expensive are they to secure?

Conor Karrel said...

Beautifully written GayProf! I'm continously surprised at how many gay men who desire monogamy deride others for having a different viewpoint and, though not as much, vice versa.

GayProf said...

Pete: Relationships that end badly are oftentimes due to a major disconnect because the match doesn't work out.

Relationships can change and even end for many reasons. How we treat each other in those circumstances, though, shows a great deal about the type of person we are. One can’t help if two (or more people) are no longer compatible, even if one does not agree. You can end a relationship and still consider another person’s feelings. Relationships can end without dishonesty or without one person trying making sure they have a whole new relationship before ending their current one. If we see a queer relationship in crisis, it is equally mendacious to try to swoop in a build a new commitment on the ashes of somebody else’s love.

We often know when we are being dishonorable or when we are acting out of our own selfish motives. To ignore those things, I think, indicates one’s mediocrity as a human. If we, as queer folk, don’t respect each other or our relationships, why should anybody else?

emeraldimp said...

Nothing substatial to add, just that I agree and would rather see equality in the form of no state-recognized relationships -- for everyone. :-)

Elizabeth McClung said...

Coming from Europe, where Civil unions/marriage for gay couples is or so will be the norm to Canada where I am legally married, the US and the Pope seem to more interesting in thier own fear than what marriage does or doesn't mean.

As a lesbian Christian, I believe that God loves diversity, howevermuch organized Christianity hates it - and the successful loving relationships from asexuals to monogomous relationships to open and committed relationships to triads demonstrate that we lose more through conformity than diversity.

Oso Raro said...

Dear Sister Boom Boom,

Sorry to be off the tip. The BF was in town and I just packed him off, so now I'm catching up. Nice post, per usual. What's so funny is that the other night in my summer class (yes, girl, it has ALREADY started! Oh Mary, Don't ASK!), my students and I had a remarkably similar conversation to the issues raised in your post.

We watched "A Very Natural Thing," one of the first "Gay is Normal" films of the post-Stonewall era, and it was a trip. The movie, in case you haven't seen it (and Mary, who has?) follows this one guy as he negotiates gay culture of the 1970s, between monogamy, commitment and "marriage" (characters actually use this term), and then basically becomes "liberated" (there are great Meat Rack and Bathhouse sequences).

The ending is cheesy (a lot of running on the beach slo-mo with flopping willies), but the film engendered an intense conversation about marriage, whether gay men could have monogamous relationships, and the radical sex culture of the 1970s that my students (esp. the LGBT ones) totally identify with HIV. I was trying to get them to think in the terms of the moment, and why the film might be important, but they were all wrapped up in the contemporary moment, and it was hard for them to do this (although it did lead to a very productive convo).

You're right to identify the false dichotomy between marriage/monogamy and sexual libertinism/revolution, but again, as you say, this is a divide we inforce ourselves within the community. HRC has happy, well-rounded LGBT folks in its campaigns, who are "no different" from heterosexuals, which has a point and purpose. But the sex radical contingent (aka Michael Warner, Pat Califia, et al) identifies (correctly, I think), the problems of this bourgeois appeal, but are also responding to arguments of normativity present within certain segments of LGBT culture: "str8 acting, str8 looking" is a key one, I think.

Maybe one of the reasons the Right has run away with the conversation is that we ourselves can't find a meeting place without the house exploding. But your post is acute in pointing out that this inability to coalition is hurting us now, big time. I would like to say something about the "big picture" but the truth is that for mainstream LGBT folks and sex radicals, that is the bigger picture, which is both historically appropriate (GLF as an organisation of the Left, with its requisite internecine battles and doctrinaire strategies) and shockingly short-sighted.

But there are all sorts of ways to suss this out, I suppose. You could say that this is a debate for the coastal elites while LGBT folks in red states get on with it (that's not my opinion, btw).

Love and kisses, Sister Moonshine

Anonymous said...

The all or nothing concept is probably out there because both those extremes are the easiest to maintain.

Either you just go for your own pleasure, your own purposes, your own good, and think little or nothing of the guy you bang today, the guy you bang tomorrow or the next day... OR... You have complete sexual AND emotional committment to one and only one other, and they to you.

They're both very simple. One requires no thought or care about anyone else, but might lead to a deadened soul. The other tolerates no breaching of the committment but can create a rich and vibrant partnership.

And then there's the reality in between.

Even with a zillion straight married couples... things happen. Some unions collapse, others fake it, others truly build and move beyond.

And even a major sex-crazed guy will (I'm betting) sometimes have thoughts of "I want to be doing this with someone I care about."

But it's hard to deal with these non-extremes. There are no simple rules. They require work to make them work. And very few people seem to want to put any effort into their lives. We all just want things to just be all good. Why should I have to "work" at a relationship - we should just click together from now to forever.

So it's easier to cling to the simple ends. You love one forever or you love no one ever.

I personally don't like it, but I think it's how most of us work. Though I'm sure we're capable of better.

Gay Erasmus said...

What upsets me about the current debate is the extent to which queer breakups are adduced as evidence that queer relationships do not deserve legal recognition, whether it's the people who pillory LGBTI folk for not being able to maintain lifelong unions, or the people who protest the 'oppressive' heteronormative model of a monogamous partnership. Both miss the point. This is preeminently a matter of choice -- choice and the freedom for individuals to express and cultivate their relationships in the manner they're already doing.

Gayprof, you've perfectly conveyed all my thoughts on this subject. I agree with everything you say here. (I even agree with your choice of Oscar de la Hoya as your stalked nominee!)

Br. Jonathan said...

Really, really loving your blog. Good luck in the move from Texas. I did that ten years ago. Here's an article I wrote that might make you smile:


Anonymous said...

Hi Gay Prof,

With apologies for the cross-posting on, I wanted to share my post and hear your thoughts.

I dated a practicing bi-sexual for four years. I just didn't know, This was a deeply loving relationship but I couldn't abide this person being sexually active with others. It ended sadly with my exit but I've thought a lot about someone's sexual proclivities and have concluded that our sexual identity is determined in our genes.

I am not making excuses for the behavior of my bi-sexual ex and I admit that I still harbor anger that I never received an apology for the hiding and lies but I do believe that we all fit somewhere on the homo- bi - hetereo- sexual continuum, as determined by our genetic make-up.

Yes, I am saying that I believe homosexuality is as genetically based as bi- sexuality and homosexuality.

Thus, it is easier for me to view the marriage debate logically and without religious, cultural, or political bias and therefore to conclude that if two individuals love each other, allow them to marry.