Straight People, Don’t Do Me No Favors!

It’s happened again.

Every so often it happens. A straight friend, or acquaintance, or just human who I’ve met, makes an announcement “I’m not getting married until everyone can get married!”

Sometimes they make the announcement in a general sort of way, and sometimes it is aimed directly at me (“it’s just not fair to you!”) Sometimes these people are engaged, sometimes they are single, though typically they are at least partnered. Sometimes I get the impression that they are using this political stance to avoid a commitment they probably don’t really want in the first time, and sometimes I get the impression that they desperately want to be married and are so appalled that some people can’t have the thing they want so they are denying themselves. What all these people have in common is that they care, they deeply care, about what they perceive as a great injustice. So before I go on, before I say what I have to say, I want to stop and thank every single one of them. If you are a human being who can legally marry the person of your choosing, and you are so upset that some people (like me) can’t legally marry the person of their choosing that you are considering forgoing the whole thing: THANK YOU SO MUCH. Thank you for caring, thank you for thinking of us, thank you for your empathy and your compassion and your frustration.

But just get married if you want to. Seriously. I understand that your compulsion to bypass on marriage comes from a good place, but please, don’t make me part of your decision to marry or not to marry. Here are just a few reasons you should just get hitched already:

1. Despite what they want you to think, the government is actually not a business, nor does it work like one.
It makes sense to boycott businesses that have practices or support policies that you find abominable. It’s that whole vote-with-your-dollar thing. It’s the reason you don’t eat at chick-fil-a (unless you are vegetarian or vegan, in which case that is probably the reason you don’t eat at chick-fil-a). Businesses are driven by profits, so if you give your money to businesses that do more good than harm, and enough other people do that as well, then arguably those “better businesses” will be stronger, and the ones you don’t like with struggle. It makes a ton of sense when you are talking about a business.
Except the government, it’s not a business. Many politicians would like to treat it more like one, but the fact remains that it still isn’t one. The government is not driven by profits the same way a business is (no, I’m not saying the government is better or is driven by anything inherently better than profits, just making a point about how it actually works) and so it isn’t vulnerable to a boycott in the same way. If a bunch of liberal progressive and radical straight people choose not to get married, it does not punish the government, the government does not loose enough money from the marriage license you didn’t get to make it think twice about its position on gay marriage. There are a lot of ways to pressure a government into offering more equal marriage laws, but this way just doesn’t work.

2. Your conservative relatives don’t get it.
You are in your twenties, you are liberal, you have a live-in-partner, and you choose to put off marriage. Unless you are walking around wearing a T-shirt that says “I would be married by now if you weren’t so homophobic” your conservative relatives assume that you are not married for all the other reasons twenty something liberals aren’t married. They might think you don’t value marriage, they might think you’re lazy, they might think you are afraid of commitment. I’ll tell you what they almost definitely do not think: “Gee, I bet Martha and Johny would be married by now if only I hadn’t voted for that anti-gay-marriage amendment back in 2004! Boy was that ever a mistake!”
There’s a better way to send this message. Go ahead and get married. Make sure you get married in a church or institution that isn’t bigoted (cause you should do that anyways) and then have your officiant make an announcement during the ceremony. Bam. All of your relatives just heard that. Now you made a statement. Good work.

Here’s a cute post about ways you can show your support for gay marriage during your straight wedding.

3. You are going to be waiting an incredibly long time.
As I’ve discussed before, so-called marriage equality isn’t actually about making marriage equal, it’s about slightly widening the exclusive group with access to marriage rights and protections. So if you aren’t getting married because you want EVERYONE to be able to get married… you know what? You probably aren’t ever going to get married. And if you don’t want to ever get married, that’s fine, but please be honest about your reasons.

4. Marriage benefits are not a finite resource.
It isn’t as though if you forgo all the good stuff that goes along with a legally recognized marriage, there’ll be more of it to pass around to us gays… If I had access to the kind of legal benefits that a state recognized marriage confers, I would take them because they are extremely helpful, and because my refusing to take them wouldn’t make life any easier for say, poly families.

5. Marriage rights are NOT the most important issue facing the LGBTQ community today, nor are they the most important civil rights issue of our time.
I’m really just repeating myself here. But yeah, you know where this is going.

6. I’m getting married, and you can too!
It’s not just me. More and more gays are choosing to get married, to have weddings and celebrate with their families and live as married people, regardless of their state’s position on it. I am getting married in September. I am excited. As of this writing, my state will not recognize my marriage, so we will have no legal benefits whatsoever. But that’s not the point. Very few people get married just for the legal benefits, and if you are a straight person who wants to get married, odds are you aren’t doing it just for the legal benefits either. I’m having a ceremony and a party and a cake and a crazy dress, and there is no reason you can’t have those things too.

8. I love weddings.
Have you ever been to a wedding? Weddings are so much fun! I even like the ceremony part (though I know plenty of people who find them boring, but hey, I’ve always enjoyed that sort of thing) and then after the ceremony there’s a big party! People get emotional together, which is always sort of nice, and then there’s dancing, and food, and booze, and dessert! I’ve recently learned that planning one of these big to-dos can be a bit stressful, so I’m probably only going to do the one. But if you are thinking of getting married, and you want to do something nice for gays, you should have a wedding and then invite me. Please have a vegetarian option at dinner. Thanks!

There. I’m happy to reassure you that you can, in fact, get married, and that you’re refusing to marry does nothing whatsoever for me. You’re welcome, and congratulations!

rainbow-wedding

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But What About The Children?

Plenty of other people have written responses to, and rebuttals of, the “how will I explain your homosexual relationship to my child?” argument. I think it has been gone over pretty thoroughly, and the answer is pretty obvious to most people (who actually want to find the answer, and aren’t using the question as a stand-in for what they really want to say, which is “but I think gays are icky and I want my kid to think so too!”) but I wanted to share a personal experience that I had recently.

***

Recently, I was babysitting a four year old, the child of some friends, who I kind of adore. I should say that I know his parents pretty well, and I’m familiar with their politics, and actually knew that they had tried to broach the subject of less “traditional” families with him in the past – so you can’t accuse me of being the evil babysitter exposing the kid to the evil homosexual agenda! But even if I hadn’t known that about his parents, maybe if you don’t want your kids to know about gay people, you shouldn’t let one babysit your kid?

He’s really into dinosaurs right now, which is pretty great because so am I! I brought over some of my stash of plastic dinosaurs (yes, I am an adult, thank you) as well as some dinosaur info cards that I once got for a dinosaur themed birthday party I threw myself (when I turned 23, yup, still an adult).

His primary interest was in making the dinosaurs into little family units, and particularly little family units that look like his family. That’s not really surprising, and after some reflection, I remember that when my sister and I were kids, all of the imaginary families that we created had daddies who worked and mommies who stayed home with the children, children who were almost always pairs of sisters. So he had three dinosaurs (all different models of dinosaurs in the ___ family) which were, in his words, “a mama ‘ceratops, a papa ‘ceratops, and a little baby ‘ceratops!” and I created a little family of ___. Then all the dinosaurs had a dance party, because you know, what else would you do next?

And then, this exchange:

“That one is the papa!”

I took a deep breath, and said, “Actually, in this family there isn’t a papa, there are two mamas.”

“But why?”

“Well, some families have a mama and a papa, like the ‘ceratops family, but some families have two mamas, or two papas, or just a mama, or just a papa. And some families have one baby, and some families have two babies, and some families have lots of babies. In this family, they have two mamas, and one baby.”

He was quiet for a minute, like he was processing all of this information. Suddenly, he stopped making his “dinosaur voice”, paused the game, and looked right into my eyes.

“But I have just one mama,” he held up one finger to represent one mama, “and just one papa,” and another finger to represent his papa. He was all seriousness.

“Yes,” I said, “and that is the perfect number of mamas and papas for you! That is exactly what you are supposed to have! But it might not be right for everybody else.”

 

He is four years old. He’s still wrapping his head around the idea that other people might have different feelings or needs from his at all. He just started going to preschool, and he’s learning things about the crazy interesting world of other people. For example, even though he does not like spicy food (he only likes “little tiny pieces of spicy”) sometimes other people do like spicy food. I don’t know all the stages of childhood development off the top of my head, but this strikes me as totally and completely normal. First you have to realize that other people have feelings the same way that you have feelings, and then the next step is learning that sometimes they feel differently than you do. The conversation about families seemed like just another extension of that.

“Oh.” he said, after pondering this for a minute, “ok!” and we went back to our game.

***

Later, we abandoned the toy dinosaurs, and we pretended that we were the dinosaurs. Thankfully, I had him there to instruct me on the rules and particulars of such a game.

 

“You are the mama ‘ceratops and I am the little bitty baby ‘ceratops and you have to take care of me, ok?” and then we hid under some blankets, and then I protected him from a monster, and then he said “I love you mama ‘ceratops.” and my heart melted into a puddle of mush.

We were on the couch playing that game when his real, human, mama got home. I told her a little bit about what we had done during the day (including the chat about how families come in all different shapes and sizes and they’re all good) and then she sat down on the couch with us. He was in the middle. A light went off in his head.

He reached out and grabbed both of our hands and squealed with excitement “AND YOU CAN BOTH BE MY MAMAS!!!!”

***

In the moment, that exchange was a little clunky, the way that exchanges with four year olds can be. But it was fine. And it got me thinking.

Kids, at least kids that age, do not think about marriage in terms of sex or even romance. Maybe they think about it in terms of liking each other, maybe hugging or even kissing, but mostly they think about it in terms of what grown-ups can offer children. This child has met my girlfriend/partner/fiancee, and he knows that we love each other and are getting married. I don’t think he sees that as fundamentally different from his parents relationship, but I don’t think he sees it as fundamentally different from two friends, either. If he does see these relationships differently, it’s based on whether or not they have children, because that is what he can relate to, not the genders of the adults involved.

 

Explaining gay marriage, or families with gay parents, to kids, it’s only hard (or any harder than explaining anything else to kids, which can sometimes be quite challenging) if you first explain to them that marriage is a boy-girl thing. So, let’s just not do that first one, ok?

 

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Poly Marriage: Narrow Views

Are you all sick of talking about marriage yet? Yes? Well, too bad. The fact is that we have a lot more to talk about, and it’s gonna keep getting complicated. Also, between all the gay marriage hoopla and my own impending nuptials, it’s of particular interest right now.

 

If you remember, when I wrote my piece on gay marriage, I talked a bit about how poly marriage is still illegal and we can’t call it “marriage equality” since we aren’t really talking about equality. Here, I’ll quote myself.

One thing that the gang on Sister Wives do though, that most folks pushing for gay marriage try their best not to do, is compare their situation to the gay marriage struggle. The comparison is easy to make. Gay people do not have the right to marry legally in most of this country. Polygamists also do not have the right to marry legally, however they have the added bonus of being able to be prosecuted for living as if they were married! Wowza! If three adult people decide to enter into a marriage-like agreement, even if they do not seek any legal spousal benefits for the third spouse, they can be prosecuted for that. Think about that for a second, when I did, it was probably the first time that I felt privileged as a queer person. I mean, my fiancee and I may never be able to share insurance, but no one is going to take me to jail for calling her my wife.

(It bares mentioning that that was not always the case, and historically many gay people were in fact locked up for the crime of having “indecent” relationships.)

And yet, when conservatives bring up polygamy in that “if we allow gays to get married, what’s next?” sort of way, the vocal majority of those pushing for gay marriage have one clearly resounding answer: We are nothing like them. They are icky. We absolutely oppose polygamy. We promise if you just let us nice, clean, polite, monogamous, gays get married, you’ll never have to worry about polygamy being legalized.

And this is what we call marriage equality? Does that sound anything like equality?

This week, I saw two different pieces talking about this very issue.

First up is Slate, which published a piece simply called Legalize Polygamy! Here’s a quote:

As a feminist, it’s easy and intuitive to support women who choose education, independence, and careers. It’s not as intuitive to support women who choose values and lifestyles that seem outdated or even sexist, but those women deserve our respect just as much as any others. It’s condescending, not supportive, to minimize them as mere “victims” without considering the possibility that some of them have simply made a different choice.

Jillian Keenan does not discuss polyamory at all (it’s worth mentioning that I didn’t really either) she is exclusively talking about polygamy. More than that, she’s talking about a specific kind of polygamy, polygyny, marriages where one man is married to multiple women simultaneously. She doesn’t touch on polyandry (one woman married to multiple men simultaneously), the possibility of queer polygamist unions, or the idea that 3 or more people might want to all be married to each other. Put simply, the issue is complicated, and she is looking at only one facet of it. I know some polyamorous people were quite upset by this – they felt like they’d been passed over, and in a way they have been. Keenan talks primarily about Mormon polygamy, and mentions Islamic polygamy briefly.

What Keenan does well in her piece is to respond to some of the prejudices against this kind of marriage. She makes arguments that I have made myself (legalizing polygamy would make it easier to find the child abusers) and responds to some of the arguments that I have found myself responding to. Because if you think that polygamist marriage should be illegal because it is a sexist institution, then, well, you have to make the majority of traditional marriage illegal. You have to make the Duggars’ marriage illegal. It’s definitely worth a quick read.

Of course, I’ve also heard the claim that polygyny is the “ultimate feminist institution” because you know, sister wives means lots of ladies helping each other out. That kind of logic only works if you assume that women need to have children and that only women can do things like homekeeping and childcare. Which, do we even need to talk about how that is a sexist stance?

***

And then, coming in on the other end of the spectrum, is this piece on The Stranger, with the delightful title “You May Now Kiss the Bride and the Other Bride and the Other Bride and the Other Groom; Why Poly Marriage Is Never Going to Happen

Mistress Matisse takes the exact opposite stance, she’s a polyamorous person, and she completely ignores the reality of polygamous marriage. Doesn’t even mention it, just like Keenan didn’t even mention polyamory. Mistress Matisse’s basic stance is this: poly relationships are far too complicated, and poly people far too unorganized, for a push for poly(amorous) marriage to ever happen. No worries! Gay marriage is as bad as it will get.

What I like about the piece is that she talks about many of the complexities that Keenan washed over. Ok, so you have three partners. Is that three separate marriages (all parties being married to each other individually)? or is it just one big marriage? Or what if one person wants to be married to two people but they don’t necessarily want to be married to each other? How would that work? And who gets to decide? And how will that decision bring more equality anyways? And then there’s this:

But being in love doesn’t have to include a ring or a big white cake. To be polyamorous is to let your heart grow to hold many loving relationships that come in different shapes and sizes. Once you’ve learned to do that, why would you try to squeeze it back down into a pattern built for two?

 

After reading both of these articles, I keep going back to how similar they are. Actually, they are completely different, they ignore opposite things, and they take very different positions. But they both start with a similar assumption: the institution of marriage is basically fine, and basically works well as what it is.

And I disagree. When conservative politicians cry “what’s next? poly marriage?” when we talk about gay marriage what they are really upset about is the idea that marriage, as an ideal, and as a civil institution, will be rethought. They are scared by the idea of people questioning what marriage means, what it’s role should be in society, and whether or not it should be elevated to the super-status it currently holds. They are afraid that we will look at “traditional” American marriage and say “hey wait a minute, this doesn’t make any sense! let’s take it apart and make something better!”

 

And that, in my opinion, is exactly what should be happening. Complete with complicated poly marriages, if people want them.

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A Cozy Catch-Up: What’s Complicated?

I’ve been quiet on here for awhile, for a whole myriad of reasons, ranging from my real life getting “in the way” to reevaluating what I actually what to do with this platform, and why I want to do it. I’ve been thinking a whole lot about the blogs that I enjoy reading, and why I enjoy them so much, and the blogs that I read the most often (not necessarily the same as the ones I enjoy!) and why I keep going back to them, and what all of that means for me. I’ve had drafts saved on here of partial blog mission statements, and I’ve found myself disagreeing with my own words more often than I’d really care to admit.

 

Oh, and I lost my at-home internet access. I’m sure that has something to do with the slow-down in posts as well.

 

I’m sitting in a coffee shop today, just finished up doing some stuff for my pretty-damn-decent day job, giving myself some space to think and to write. The music playing on the (I think pandora?) radio station reminds me of being 19 years old. So let’s talk. Let’s catch up and let’s clarify some points and let’s try to understand each other, even though we will ultimately fail.

I started this blog because of two feelings. One feeling was an old one, the desire to write. I identify as a visual artist first, but I’ve always liked and loved writing, and sometimes people tell me I am good at it and that feels good. In the world that I occupy now, blogging is a fairly obvious and easy and comfortable format for me to satisfy that urge. I read a lot of blogs and it was starting to feel ridiculous that I didn’t have a public blog of my own yet (or at least, one that I really used, I’ve dabbled before). The second feeling was one that I’ve been having a whole lot in the last year. I have this feeling after conversations at work and over dinner. I have it after reading news articles and blog posts. I have it when I get off the phone with my mother. I have it when I’m trying to make time to paint. I have it when I’m trying to find a way to buy art supplies that doesn’t involve a corporation (and it is basically physically impossible). I have it when I visit other places and people ask about the city that I live in. It’s the same feeling all the time. It’s a feeling of being slightly overwhelmed and never having time to really explain the nuance of any situation. It’s a feeling of resisting the urge to simplify the world to buzzwords and memes. It’s a feeling of really having to take some time to chew on an idea before I open my big fat mouth.

“I have complicated feelings about that…”

And I kept finding myself saying that to people. To my partner, to my coworkers, to my friends, to fellow artists, to everyone. And I was saying it about all sorts of things. About cats, about feminism, about lgbtq politics, about race relations, about art, about religion. And I barely ever had time to follow up on any of those complicated feelings. And I really really wanted to.

So I started a blog. And I started writing. And then I started to notice things about my own writing that made me uncomfortable. While the issues I tend to gravitate towards, things that feel complicated, are ones that I often have both positive and negative feelings about, that rarely shows. I’m a pessimist, and so I find myself taking it for granted that, for example, y’all will understand that I really did love that genderbread thing quite a bit, and not feeling the need to talk about any of my positive feelings about it. The result is that I talk mostly about my more negative feelings. It looks a little like I am complaining. And that isn’t really my purpose. So that’s confusing, and I’m working on it. This feels almost ridiculous to say, but really, you guys, I like lots of things.
Also, I found myself shying away from writing about certain issues. And maybe some of that made sense, but I still felt weird about being able to talk until I was blue in the face about the importance of feminism, but only making what felt like small nods towards the importance of being anti-racist. Now I am a white lady, so maybe I have more personal experience needing feminism than I do needing anti-racism, so maybe that makes it easier for me to talk about one than the other. At the same time though, I think it is important for allies (of all sorts) to speak out. I’m still human. I’m still learning. I’m still trying to find the best and most respectful ways to do that.

So, rather than a mission statement, I’ve decided to share with you a list of goals for this blog space. Here we go!

1. Demonstrate a more accurate and healthy range of opinions/reactions. That means talking about stuff that I like as well as stuff that I don’t like. That means taking the time to articulate the full range of my opinions on a matter.

2. Tell stories. I love stories and story-telling, but sometimes I hide behind a wall of intellectualism and Discussing Important Issues, because it somehow feels safer.

3. Be open to feedback and input while maintaining my individual voice.

4. Be aware of, and own up to, my own position of privilage.

If you have any thoughts on any of these goals, you know what to do.

 

In the meantime, those of you who have an interest in my wedding plans might be interested to know that I am (along with some other folks) doing a little guest-blogging over at the wedding blog LoveintheD.

 

Thanks for this chat. I feel better now. Stay tuned.

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Let’s Keep Talking About Gender: Updates and Additional Thoughts regarding Genderbread, among other things

I’ve been talking a whole lot about my post about the Genderbread system for talking about gender. The conversations have been really great and have really helped me to think about how I tackled that subject, my own views on gender, how to be empathetic, and really how I approach writing altogether. I have a few things to add and to clarify, and I do not want to just keep editing and adding to the same post, so here we are!

The most important thing that I want to make sure is ultra ultra clear to everyone is that I really really like Genderbread! In fact, this entire conversation was sparked by me leaving a comment that started with “I love EVERYTHING about this except…” I don’t think that the “except” part means that I don’t love it. I don’t think that criticizing something means that I don’t think a thing is great. Now, I framed my post in terms of criticisms, that’s true, and looking back on it, I’m not sure that was the best format to choose. I was trying to get my thoughts out, and that was the most obvious way for me. I was hearing a lot of criticism, and I wanted to engage with it and respond to it. Some of the criticisms I agreed with, true, but many of them I actually argued against. I brought them up because I thought they were important to respond to, but my response was actually in defense of Genderbread. Here, I’ll show you by going ahead and quoting myself like some self obsessed jerk:

I disagree with this more than any other point I’m going to bring up here. I do not think that it is condescending to try to offer an explanation in an accessible way, particularly when so much of the conversation around gender is SO VERY ACADEMIC that people who haven’t (and in some cases haven’t had the opportunity to) take a gender studies class are a) afraid to talk about gender or b) think it’s all elitist bullshit. But you don’t have to take a gender studies class to understand gender, and you shouldn’t have to!

and, also:

And lastly, I just want to say that when I hear this argument, I kind of feel like it’s akin to saying that we shouldn’t speak English because it is a very gendered language (or French, or Spanish, or, you get the idea!) and maybe there’s a point to that, but when you are trying to explain something to someone who SPEAKS English, if you expect them to learn German before they talk to you, you aren’t going to get anywhere. You have to start with what you have.

 

But the fact that this was not obvious to several different people means something to me. I’m still learning, and I’m going to just assume that people found it to be unclear because it was unclear. I’ll try to do better in the future! In the meantime, let me be extremely clear: I really like Genderbread. I am going to print out a bunch of them to keep around my house.

What I don’t think though, is that liking it somehow makes it infallible. I don’t think that the fact that it does a good job of helping to start the conversation about gender makes it above criticism. On the contrary, I think that the conversation that it does a good job of starting, that’s the conversation that I’m having. I want to keep having that conversation. That will continue to mean being critical sometimes.

I also want to make a note about the difference between sex and gender, and the difference between transsexual people and transgender people. Let’s start with the second one. I made a huge oversight in my first post, I failed to realize that MANY MANY TRANS* PEOPLE ARE BOTH TRANSGENDER AND TRANSSEXUAL. This should have been so obvious to me, and it wasn’t. I treated the two as two distinct categories, and they’re not, and it’s not about that, and I shouldn’t have done that and I’m sorry. And this leads into the thing about sex and gender, because it is all well and good, for me, a cis gender woman, to sit here and say that sex and gender are totally separate and we should view them and treat them as such, but the reality is that we live in the world, and the world doesn’t always do that. And human experiences matter. The fact is that I have never looked at a form that said “gender: check one, male, female” and wondered if my choice would be respected, or wondered at which one I should choose at all. That is not my reality. I can say all day long that “male” and “female” are biological categories and nothing more, but the fact is that they are loaded words for many people. It is not my job to police anyone’s experience or try to force anyone into a category. Emotional reality MATTERS, and I think sometimes it matters a great deal more than the reality of where one fits on paper, whether it’s your driver’s license or a Genderbread worksheet.

I’m not asking Genderbread, or myself, to be perfect. But I do think that we need to talk about the ways that we can make things better.

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When We Talk About Gender…

Genderbread-2.0

Pictured above, you will see the Genderbread Person, and its corresponding system for thinking about and discussing gender, posted a few days ago on Everyday Feminism. It was originally posted on it’s pronounced metrosexual and was created by Sam Killermann.

I want to start out by saying, a couple of things. The first thing is that Everyday Feminism is not my favorite website, and my general complaint about many/most of the things I see on their site is that they over-simplify issues, sometimes to the point of getting them wrong all together. I love that they are trying to explain these issues in a way that is accessible to everyone, but sometimes if you go too far in the direction of trying to make it “easy to understand” you lose sight of the actual thing you trying to explain. So maybe the person can understand it easily enough, but the understanding they come to is not actually accurate, because surprise, the truth is not simple. That’s why my blog is called “I have complicated feelings about that…” because the truth is complicated, and feelings are complicated, and humanity is complicated, and compassion even, is complicated.

The second thing is that the first time I saw the Genderbread Person, I was really, really, incredibly, excited about it. I really liked it, and it was probably the first thing on Everyday Feminism that I got really stoked about. Why did I get so excited? Well, it has to do with those double line graphs. See, in the earlier version of the Genderbread Person, everything was explained on a spectrum much like the kinsey scale (as an aside, I was completely obsessed with the kinsey scale when I was 15). The two parallel graphs reminds me of something a vet I hired to perform acupuncture on (one of) my cat(s) said to me (aaaand this is the part where half of you decide I’m nuts and close the window, that’s cool. Her regular vet thought she had asthma, and it was the treatment that a) had proven results and b) didn’t involve forcing steroids into her lungs with an incredibly expensive inhaler. If you still feel all judgey, go ahead and leave). She looked at the symptoms that Blanche was having, and said that, from a Chinese medicine perspective, Blanche either had “too much hot or not enough cold”. And when I cocked my head and said “aren’t those the same thing?” she said very definitively that no, they are not.

The two parallel graph lines for each category allow me to describe, for example, how much I am feminine and how much I am masculine, as two separate things that are not necessarily dependent on each other. And I feel like that’s a really big step in the ways that we talk about gender. Because on the old model, if we see gender presentation as one straight line, to say that I am masculine at all takes me further away from being feminine and closer to being genderless. And that simply isn’t true (for me). My presentation is generally pretty feminine, I read as a girl. But there are also things about me that are masculine. I have a hyper-masculine walk that comes out as soon as I feel threatened, even if I’m wearing a dress. But on the old model, you don’t see that. All you see is a girl that isn’t as girly as some girls, I’m not allowed to be on the masculine side of the graph at all. So I saw this, and I was totally stoked. Here is a visualization that allows me to discuss my gender in a way that is slightly more representative of me! Maybe it’s also more representative for lots of other people! How very very exciting!

Ok, now that all of that’s out of the way.

A conversation in the comments section led me to think about a lot of the limitations of this kind of tool/infographic (both in specific and in general) so get yourself a cup of coffee because we are going to talk about some of that now. I’m going to talk about the criticisms that I heard both on that comment thread and other places, the ones I think are totally legit and the ones I kind of disagree with.

1. Genderbread Person was made by a cisgender person.
That’s totally true! And it is also totally true that trans* and genderqueer people can probably do a much better job of explaining their particular interaction with gender than cis allies can. However, I don’t think that, in itself, makes it irrelevant. You see, one of the biggest pieces of privilege is often not having to talk about a given issue. I’m a cisgender lady, so I can choose not to speak up for trans* people whenever I like. If I hear a horrible joke about “trannies” that joke isn’t about me, and if I want to, I can lower my head and shuffle on.
But being an ally means recognizing that and choosing to do something else. One thing that all of my trans* and genderqueer friends have complained about is the fact that cis people feel that they have the right to just ask trans* and genderqueer people all kinds of questions about their bodies, their sexuality, and their identity, often in wholly inappropriate situations. I see part of my responsibility as any ally as to educate other cis people whenever possible, that way it DOESN’T have to be solely the job of trans* and genderqueer folk to talk about these things. So when I see another cis person talking about how varied gender can be, I don’t think “oh whatever they’re cis it doesn’t count” I think “YES THIS IS WHAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING LETS GET TO WORK.”

2. Genderbread Person actually glosses over trans* people.
I think this one is both true and not true. I think it’s complicated because when we say trans* it actually means more than one thing. Like many other words it actually encompasses a variety of identities that can be related and are bound together by some common experiences and struggles, but still maintain their distinct differences.
I feel like (from my cis perspective) TRANSGENDER people are represented fairly well using this system. There’s ample opportunity to use these charts to say “even though I am biologically male I am a woman” and I think that is awesome.
What it doesn’t do very well is represent TRANSSEXUAL people (people who have or currently are changing their SEX to better line up with how they feel about themselves). I just spent some time looking for a good explanation of the differences between these two things, and I haven’t found one yet. Feel free to share if you have a good one, and I’ll be sure to post it when I come across one. For now, I think if you have a basic understanding of the difference between sex and gender it should be pretty clear. And the genderbread person simply does not address the reality that people can and do change their sex. Not at all. And that’s a huge oversight and a huge problem. And it’s one I don’t know how to fix.

*EDIT: After discussing this issue (and the others) with Sam over email, I have the following to share: “the GP certainly does accomodate transsexualism, incredibly well, in fact. Taking sex off of a continuum where male and female pull from one another was crucial to this. For example, a person can denote an increase in their male-ness as a result of their transition, which, in some cases, may not decrease their female-ness. I spoke with a lot of transsexual folks in creating this new schema to make sure we could make something that would make sense for them as they consider their gender.
What the graphic does not accomodate, and what you (or whomever brought up this criticism) might be misattributing to an issue with transsexualism, is gender fluidity. And that’s just the nature of a static image. Some genderfluid folks have sent me examples of how they use the graphic, though (basically just marking the range they experience in each area), and it seems they’ve made it work for themselves.”
I personally think this makes a lot of sense, and I’m wondering if it is just something I missed looking at Genderbread before, or if it’s something that ought to be more obvious (perhaps highlighted with an example, something that says “this is how transition can affect this”) in the graphic.

3. Genderbread Person attempts to illustrate that sex and gender are not linear by showing them in a linear way.
It sure does! Jeepers, why are people always trying to show us that things are non-linear using linear models?
Maybe it’s because we are all taught and conditioned to think and view the world in a very linear way? Maybe it’s because even though many of us feel deeply that linear thought is NOT the best way we still have a hard time breaking out of the habit? Think about it for a minute. What would be the alternative way of trying to explain gender? A 3-D model? That sounds totally awesome to me, but that is partly because I’ve already spent a ton of time thinking about gender and trying to see the world in less linear ways (even though it’s crazy hard for me). I think that for cis people who have never had to examine gender (and never had the tools to do so) a 3-D model would just be overwhelming. And then they would look away. And then they wouldn’t learn anything at all. Besides, I think the plotting of  information on multiple linear variables very clearly gives the impression that it is not a linear issue. That’s actually how most 3-D models are made in the first place.
And lastly, I just want to say that when I hear this argument, I kind of feel like it’s akin to saying that we shouldn’t speak English because it is a very gendered language (or French, or Spanish, or, you get the idea!) and maybe there’s a point to that, but when you are trying to explain something to someone who SPEAKS English, if you expect them to learn German before they talk to you, you aren’t going to get anywhere. You have to start with what you have.

4. By using small words, Genderbread Person is talking down to people.
I disagree with this more than any other point I’m going to bring up here. I do not think that it is condescending to try to offer an explanation in an accessible way, particularly when so much of the conversation around gender is SO VERY ACADEMIC that people who haven’t (and in some cases haven’t had the opportunity to) take a gender studies class are a) afraid to talk about gender or b) think it’s all elitist bullshit. But you don’t have to take a gender studies class to understand gender, and you shouldn’t have to! Explaining things in colloquial language is one way that we make them more accessible and the conversation about gender needs to be accessible. On the contrary, I think that when we hide our explanations behind a wall of academics, and act like it’s somehow beneath us to break it down in simpler language, then we are being condescending. I know I have a tendency to do that, and I am trying to learn how not to.

5. Ok, but that thing about oversimplifying sometimes missing the point entirely…
Yep. Sometimes when we try to explain something in a simpler way, we succeed in being simple but not in explaining what we meant to. Exhibit A, straight from the text that Everyday Feminism posted with the GenderBread Person, regarding biological sex:

Being female means having a vagina, ovaries, two X chromosomes, predominant estrogen, and you can grow a baby in your stomach area.

Being male means having testicles, a penis, an XY chromosome configuration, predominant testosterone, and you can put a baby in a female’s stomach area. Being intersex can be any combination of what I just described.

Oh jeez. So incredibly problematic! Where to even begin?
*Referring to zygotes and embryos as “babies” is misleading. They are not babies. It matters.
*Male people have no ability to put a baby in any part of anyone else’s body.
*Male people (generally) have the ability to perform the male part of sexual reproduction. That involves putting sperm (not a baby) into a female person, which, if a mature egg is present, can join with an egg to form a zygote. The zygote then MAY grow into an embryo if conditions are optimal with the nourishment, protection, and support, of the female person’s body. The embryo is literally MADE OUT OF the female person’s body. Only with the support of the female body can it ever become a baby.
*The idea that men PUT BABIES in women and women are merely vessels has been around a long time. It’s been very detrimental to women, is capital S Sexist, and do I need to even say this? IT’S PART OF THE PATRIARCHY PEOPLE.
*Furthermore, plenty of people who are 100% “male” or “female” (aka not intersex people) are infertile and unable to participate in this process for a wide effing variety of reasons.
*This made me really mad. Can you tell? You guys! It’s on a FEMINIST website! Argh!

6. Genderbread Person doesn’t talk about cisgender privilege.
Correct. I don’t think it intends to talk about cisgender privilege, and I think it has a very good reason for not talking about cisgender privilege. As we discussed before, I think it’s primary function is to explain gender to those that aren’t familiar with this discussion (which is lots of people!) and I believe that those people need to have a firmer handle on what gender is (and what it isn’t!) before they can talk about the privilege that their gender gives them. Otherwise, the conversation makes no sense.

7. Genderbread Person oversimplifies sexual orientation.
It totally does. The graphs for self identity allow that maleness, masculinity, and being a man, are all different. But in the sexual orientation section, it acts is if those three things are suddenly the same. So you can use this system to say “I’m a biologically male woman who happens to be incredibly butch/masculine!” but you can’t use it to say “I’m attracted to feminine men who are male!” Plenty of people are attracted to masculinity in women or femininity in men, and I really wonder how they managed to erase those people so completely? Bottom line, if we’re using this system to talk about sexual orientation, we need more graphs for it.

8. Why is Genderbread Person talking about sexual orientation at all?
Probably just to illustrate that it is not dependent on your gender? Like there are plenty of people who think that if you are a trans* lady, your need to be a lady must be because you want to sleep with dudes? So I guess it shows that that’s not the case, but in my mind, I see sexual orientation as so separate (and equally intricate) that it almost needs it’s own page.

***

In conclusion, I’m still kind of excited about the Genderbread Person, but it has a lot of issues and probably isn’t the BEST POSSIBLE WAY to talk about gender. However, if we are waiting for the BEST POSSIBLE WAY to talk about anything then we are never going to have a conversation at all, and then where would we be? I think it is a good way to talk about gender, and it is getting better, and that is important. It might not be particularly useful for trans* people, or people who have already spent a lot of time picking ideas about gender apart, but it might be useful to people who are new to the discussion, and could serve as a kind of introduction. I like that it creates a conversation about gender, and causes us to think about it more.
So how should we talk about gender? How do we create a conversation that is open and allows space for all people of all genders without simply throwing up our hands and saying “GENDER IS COMPLICATED, EVERYONE SHOULD JUST BE WHO THEY ARE!” (which often erases people’s personal and individual experiences)? How do cis allies talk about these issues without co-opting the conversation and selling our trans* friends short? How do we talk to cis people who are well meaning and compassionate, but haven’t had the opportunity to understand something as basic as the difference between sex and gender and therefore view trans* people as crazy or damaged? How do we call out our own privilege, and the privilege of those all around us, without minimizing the conversation?

I don’t have concrete answers for these questions, but I’m happy and excited to have the questions. I also want to share this TED talk, as a final thought, called Fifty Shades of Gay. I think it relates somehow and it’s worth thinking about.

In the meantime, I still really like the Genderbread Person, and I’m still probably going to print a bunch of them off and have fun with my friends filling them out to describe ourselves.

***

It takes forever for me to get my thoughts out. It’s 2pm and I am extremely late for brunch.

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On ‘White History Month’

Well folks, it’s almost Black History Month again!

And as we all know, the biggest problem with Black History Month is that there is no equivalent for white people, there is no ‘White History Month’.
… wait, what?
That’s right, there’s no single White History Month, because there are eleven white history months. There’s no White History Month because white history is not pushed aside and ignored to the point of needing to slow down and say “well hang on now, let’s think about white people for a minute!” There’s no White History Month because in our current culture, WHITE HISTORY is practically synonymous with HISTORY. And all of that is a problem. It’s also a problem that so many white people have such blinders on to their own privilege that they could ever assume that not having a white history month is a detriment to them, when it is actually part of the very fabric of white privilege.
Actually, it is a detriment to white people, in that racism, especially culturally sanctioned and imbedded racism, is a detriment to all people. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, equality is not about trying to be MORE equal than anybody else, it’s about trying to set up a world where we are all equal. That means that lifting up minorities does not threaten the majority position. That means letting go of our hierarchies. Ideally, that means seeing history as WHAT HAPPENED IN THE PAST as opposed to WHAT HAPPENED IN THE PAST AS IT PERTAINS TO “IMPORTANT” WHITE MEN.
Maybe you think that I’m exaggerating? Maybe you are saying “I’ve heard people of color mentioned in history books other than in February!” to which I would respond with two points:
1) rarely.
2) only when they did something that was important to white people! For example, when I was in school I only learned about the indigenous people of North America in terms of when and how they interacted with white people. The whole time there were disputes and sometimes friendships going on between the settlers and the natives, there were also tribal wars and all sorts of other things going on among the many nations that populated this continent. And yet we learned only about their interactions with Europeans, because that is what was important to white history.
***
So tomorrow begins Black History Month, a whole month when we (sometimes) discuss history that is not solely white history. Of course ideally, this would not be necessary. Ideally, we would talk about and teach all history all the time, not just the history of “important” white men. Ideally we would talk about the important contributions of African Americans to the history of America all year round, and we would also talk about first nation people and even countries that aren’t the United States sometimes (wouldn’t that be grand)! But we do not live in an ideal world, and history is still largely the pastime and province of white men out to glorify other white men. Until we teach history in a more equal way, Black History Month is a drop in the bucket, a small and important step towards including the histories of all people. Children of color deserve to know that white men were not the only people to ever accomplish things, and for many, Black History Month might help to show them that. For white kids, Black History Month can and should serve as an important reminder that lots and lots of people have done important things, not just people who look like them. Hurray!
Yet, some white people are still upset about it.
So I have a solution that’s bound to make everyone happy. Let’s go ahead and institute White History Month! We can have March, maybe, so we don’t have to wait too long? (I’d say January since white people probably want to be first, but goodness knows some folks will be upset that they “missed” it!) We can have White History Month, but that means that we no longer get eleven white history months per year. That way, the playing field will actually be leveled! For one month of the year we can talk about the important contributions to history and society by white leaders, and I’m sure we’ll find there’s plenty else to talk about for the other ten months.
***
If you’d like to suggest a topic for me to discuss this Black History Month, I’d love to hear it!
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What Do You Do With Your Struggle?

Lately everything I write seems to have the same theme. It is all about activism and oppression, and it is all about empathy. What do you do with your struggle? What do you do when the powers that be oppress you and you have to fight for your rights, what do you take away from that at the end of the day? Do you feel that your position is so hard won that it needs protecting, even from other oppressed people who are fighting for their rights? Do you feel that your position, your tiny amount of power you’ve carved out for yourself, is precious and sacred? When you see other people struggling against the same forces that held you down do you say “well, it’s not my problem, I’ve my own battle to fight.”

What do you do with your struggle?

Or do you learn empathy from your struggle? Are you fighting for a world where you are less oppressed than you once were, or are you fighting for a world where oppression can’t take root? I want to be the second kind of person. I want to be as outraged about racism as I am about sexism, because it isn’t about what affects me directly, it’s about struggle. I don’t just want to live in a world where I’m not a second-class citizen, I want to live in a world where there aren’t second-class citizens at all, where we don’t have create all these false hierarchies of who is the MOST human. I want to take my struggle and learn from it, and grow, and challenge others to learn and grow as well.

There is a great David Rakoff story about the Log Cabin Republicans… (in the book Don’t Get Too Comfortable) and this isn’t a direct quote because I don’t have the book in front of me, but he basically comes to the conclusion that gay republicans make no sense to him because he cannot separate the idea that he should have the right to exist as a gay man from other ideas, such as that women should have the right to choose and children should have the right not to starve to death. (It occurs to me that I wrote that entire sentence in present tense, and David Rakoff passed away this past summer, but I can’t go back and change it now.)

I can remember reading it and audibly shouting “YES!” alone in my tiny studio apartment. I don’t come to all of the same conclusions, I don’t think voting democrat is the answer, but I do think that a lot of these ideas are, and should be, wrapped up in each other. And I’m surprised when they aren’t for other people. It makes me think about history class, and I remember what I learned about slavery and reconstruction and Jim Crow. Essentially, one of the biggest factors in keeping African Americans disenfranchised in the South was the anger and racism of poor white people. These were not the plantation owners, these were poor people who had to struggle to make a living, and were held down by the same unfair class system that was built upon the enslavement of brown skinned people. But when the slaves were freed, they were so engrossed in the hierarchy that was keeping them down that they couldn’t deal with the idea that there might not be anyone below them. So they colluded in the oppression of others, which of course preserved a system which was unfair for all people, including themselves.

That is what I think about when I hear people say that the struggle against racism isn’t theirs because they are white, the struggle against sexism isn’t theirs because they are male, the struggle against homophobia isn’t theirs because they are straight, the struggle against transphobia isn’t theirs because they are cisgendered. The idea that everyone deserves a few basic human rights may take on more personal urgency when it is my rights that are on the chopping block, but  it should never be at the expense of the rights of others. Equality, if it truly is equality, isn’t a limited resource, and we need to stop acting like it is. We will not get to be somehow more equal by not allowing some people to take part in the equality. That’s not equality, that’s scarcity mentality and scarcity thinking, that’s capitalist logic applied to basic human rights, and it’s ugly and mean and we all know damn well it’s not right.

So what do you do with your struggle?

Today is MLK day, and quotes are being thrown around and they will continue to do so. There’s one quote that you will hear used to justify all sorts of things, but I want us all to take a minute and think about it.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

It will continue to be used to justify wars and global bullying, but I still think they are important words. Think about it. Think about how your struggle is the same as everyone else’s struggle, and think about how we don’t gain anything by stepping over them. Think about how much more powerful we would be if we all struggled together, for equal rights for all people, instead of separately, to carve out a more comfortable existence with a few more rights for ourselves.

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Bad Feminists and Straw Feminists

I’m a little behind on writing this up (and I still owe you more installments on When Feminism Fails) but I want to talk to you briefly about some of the criticism of feminism, and when it comes from sources you might not expect.

I recently read this piece on Libby Ann’s fantastic blog, Love, Joy, Feminism, which talks about the argument over feminism in the atheist community. Now, I don’t identify as an atheist, and I don’t follow atheist blogs unless they also talk about something else which interests me (Libby Ann’s blog is a prime example of this) so while I had kind of heard there’d been some hoopla about the feminism going on I wasn’t familiar with the specifics.

If you are interested, I encourage you to go read that post. I think it is worth your time and I think Libby had some important things to say. Originally I thought I’d go point by point, with quotes and all that, but instead I’m going to try to (for once) keep this brief.

Basically, what is happening here is that some people in the atheist community (all the people Libby quotes are men, though the concept itself was created by a woman) are trying to make a distinction between two kinds of feminism that they see as completely different and somewhat opposed to each other. They call these two kinds of feminism “equity feminism” and “gender feminism”. It needs to be noted right off the bat that all the people who believe that feminism breaks down into these two categories, all those people consider themselves to be “equity feminists.” The people who they would categorize as “gender feminists” do not see the world of feminism in terms of these two different categories, and we mostly just call ourselves, you know, feminists.

The first big problem is the way that they define these two different forms of feminism. In their world, equity feminism is considered with creating legal and social equality for women, and gender feminism is dumb and wrong. That’s a little bit of hyperbole, but it’s not too far off the mark. Rather than first defining the two things as “equity feminism thinks this and gender feminism thinks this” and THEN moving on to “and I’m an equity feminist and here’s why I think gender feminism is missing the mark” they include their criticisms of gender feminism right in their definitions. Ok, here’s just one quote to show you what I’m talking about:

Gender feminism is very different. It looks far less egalitarian, involves sharp criticism of gender roles, and seems to emphasize victimhood.

Libby personally doesn’t pick apart why that definition is a problem, but I want to. Because any time that your definition of your opposing view includes such negative language, you aren’t really engaging with it at all. Rather than explaining the criticism of gender roles, and then explaining why they find that to be less egalitarian, they start right off the bat telling you that gender feminism is NOT ABOUT EQUALITY.

Hm. Insisting that the majority of feminists aren’t interested in equality and just want to play the victim… does that sound familiar to you? Let’s come back to that in a minute.

Because that’s just the first problem. The second problem is the insistence that gender feminists want to deny that there are biological differences between men and women. Essentially, what they are saying is that if there aren’t more women engineers, it’s probably because women just aren’t as good at engineering as they are at some other things (like childcare!) and we just need to accept that men and women are different and let them do the things they are best suited for. As long as women have full legal rights, gender roles are a-ok with equity feminists.

So many issues here. First, sex and gender are two different things, and that is an important thing to know. When you use the words “sex” and “gender” interchangeably you create some very real problems (and I stop taking your argument seriously). Sex is biological, and gender is social. The two are often related, but not always. Also, because gender is a social construct, gender norms and expectations can vary greatly from culture to culture. If this is still confusing to anyone, here is an example:

Having breasts is part of being of the female sex, while wearing a bra is part of the female gender (in many parts of the world). Breasts are biological, whereas to claim that women naturally wear brassieres, as if it were somehow part of their biological make-up to do so, is preposterous. In many parts of the world women do not wear them, and while in our culture it is considered a feminine thing to do, it is entirely possible to still be female without one on, and it is also possible for male people to wear them.

The argument being made by the “equity feminists” (and it’s really the same argument being made by many supporters of old-school patriarchy) is that when we rail against gender roles, we’re trying to deny that there is any difference between men and women at all. That simply is not true. Because sex and gender are different things. And because we don’t any of us live in a vacuum. It is impossible to know whether women are by nature more nurturing then men are, as long as we encourage young girls to play with baby dolls and discourage young boys from doing the same. And even if you, as a parent, don’t tell your son not to play with baby dolls, unless you are parenting in the woods with only toys you made yourself by hand, the gender roles of the dominant American culture affect your child.

Go into a toy store. Go into the “pink” aisle. Tell me how many baby dolls there are. Now do the same in the “blue” aisle.

And if that weren’t enough, what are they using to back up their gender essentialist claims? Oh good, it’s evolutionary psychology. Here’s some criticism of evolutionary psychology that you might find interesting, including this gem about an evolutionary psychology study that claimed to FINALLY discover why girls prefer pink. (Spoiler, pink used to be considered a boy’s color, and the study makes no sense.) Recently I had to try to explain evolutionary psychology to a friend who was not familiar, and I broke it down like this:

Evolutionary psychology is when you take a look at your wife staying home to take care of the house and kids, and you wonder why that might be. Then you think “hey, maybe there’s an evolutionary reason she wants to do that! I bet that back during evolution times MEN were the ones hunting (cause men hunt now!) which lead me to believe that women stayed home with the kids (cause someone had to or they would have been eaten by a lion).” Then you take that faulty logic and REAPPLY it to the modern world, asserting that women EVOLVED to stay home with babies, and therefore that must be what they are best suited for now.

Most of the scientists I know just start laughing when evolutionary psychology comes up.

***

Ok so this still hasn’t been as brief as I would have liked, there was a lot to talk about. We need to bring it full circle now. Because the argument that some feminists are good and want equality and some feminists are bad and want to be victims… it’s an argument we’ve heard before in many different forms.

“now, when you say feminist, do you mean pro-equality, or pro-women?”

Bam. He was just asking a simple and honest question, which actually led to a very productive and positive conversation. However, wrapped up in that question were all of the reasons I didn’t call myself a feminist when I was fifteen, all of the reasons my mother doesn’t call herself a feminist now because “I’m for equality for everyone, not just women.” The raised eyebrows I was met with when I actually did start calling myself a feminist, the way I still get a little nervous dropping an f-bomn in public sometimes, and the reasons it is so effing important to keep doing it, they were all there in that simple little sentence.

Yes, I realize that quoting oneself is kind of ridiculous. This is from my piece about why it’s important to speak out for feminism and against patriarchy. Because that is all I could think about while I read about supposedly liberal-minded, equality-minded atheists arguing that the reason most of the speakers at atheist conventions are men is because speaking at conventions is “kind of a guy thing.” Because rather than saying that ALL FEMINISTS are bad, these “equity feminists” are setting themselves up as the “good feminists” and all others as the “bad feminists”… the same old straw feminists that we are all sick and tired of hearing about.

But other than that, other than that assertion that there is a small group of good feminists who think that voting rights are enough, their argument sounds EXACTLY the same as the tired old conservative patriarchal argument that women ought to just stay in their place.

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The Trouble With Gay Marriage (according to an engaged gay)

I need to talk to you about gay marriage.

No, I really need to talk to you about gay marriage.

This is important.

The political powers that be have made gay marriage a hot-button issue. In fact, it’s generally assumed that if you’re talking lgbtq rights, you are talking about marriage rights, and that is a pretty dangerous assumption. One reason that gay marriage gets so much more attention than other queer issues is because of the powerful backlash against it. The push for constitutional amendments to specifically ban gay marriage is fairly unique, and it is quite obviously a problem. The personal is always political, but this is one area where the personal decisions of some people have been loudly and publicly and unfairly politicized. However, when we talk about gay marriage as being synonymous with lgbtq rights we miss a a lot of very important things.

You guys, I’m engaged.

And I really want to be all “I don’t care what anyone thinks of me!” but the fact is that I’m not sixteen anymore and I’m just done wanting to be seen as someone who doesn’t care how other people see me. I do care. I care what the people who I love and respect think about me. Sharing our opinions about each other’s life choices is one of the ways that we take care of each other as a community. I’m not so desperate for approval that I’m going to do everything someone else says, but I will take other opinions and viewpoints into account, and I think that is healthy. I care what people think about me, and I want people to understand what it means (and what it doesn’t mean) when I say that I’m getting married.

So, let’s talk about gay marriage, ok?

***

The Convincing Argument for “Marriage Equality”

The argument goes something like this: as long as the government is sanctioning some kinds of committed relationships, why should gay people be excluded from that? We have as much right to get married as anyone else does! Furthermore, the opposition to gay marriage comes, primarily, from conservative religious leaders, but we all know that we are supposed to have separation of church and state in this country. Plenty of people, both gay and straight, have taken a look at loving gay relationships that look an awful lot like loving straight relationships, and asked questions such as “why can’t they share insurance?” “why don’t they get deathbed visits?” “why can’t they file taxes together?” and perhaps most importantly “why can’t they be married in the eyes of the law?”

Or, as my great-grandmother once very eloquently put it, “Oh, let them be unhappy along with the rest of us!”

It just makes good sense.

The Trouble with Gay Marriage

1. Widening an Exclusive Category Vs. Creating an Inclusive One

A few months ago I went on this totally intense Netflix marathon of the horrible TLC reality show Sister Wives. The show is really incredibly boring because, as they keep trying to remind you over and over again, they really are just a normal family in most regards. Seriously, if you are looking for something juicy and complicated, be forewarned that even reality TV editing cannot make watching other people grocery shop exciting. The sexism can be frustrating, the patriarch is a total goon, and the plot line is anti-climatic at best. And yet, I am addicted.

One thing that the gang on Sister Wives do though, that most folks pushing for gay marriage try their best not to do, is compare their situation to the gay marriage struggle. The comparison is easy to make. Gay people do not have the right to marry legally in most of this country. Polygamists also do not have the right to marry legally, however they have the added bonus of being able to be prosecuted for living as if they were married! Wowza! If three adult people decide to enter into a marriage-like agreement, even if they do not seek any legal spousal benefits for the third spouse, they can be prosecuted for that. Think about that for a second, when I did, it was probably the first time that I felt privileged as a queer person. I mean, my fiancee and I may never be able to share insurance, but no one is going to take me to jail for calling her my wife.

(It bares mentioning that that was not always the case, and historically many gay people were in fact locked up for the crime of having “indecent” relationships.)

And yet, when conservatives bring up polygamy in that “if we allow gays to get married, what’s next?” sort of way, the vocal majority of those pushing for gay marriage have one clearly resounding answer: We are nothing like them. They are icky. We absolutely oppose polygamy. We promise if you just let us nice, clean, polite, monogamous, gays get married, you’ll never have to worry about polygamy being legalized.

And this is what we call marriage equality? Does that sound anything like equality?

And here’s that quote from the president that we’ve all ready a million times:

“I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”

Let’s not even talk about how his beliefs on gay marriage never “evolved”, just his public persona. The president makes his position very clear: GOOD gays should be allowed to get married. MONOGAMOUS gays should be allowed to get married. Gays who just want a family as beautiful as the Obamas, they should be allowed to get married. It’s not just mormon polygamists that are being left out of the discussion, it’s whole crowds of queer people who don’t fit into the tight little mold of what a “good gay” looks like. If you are queer, bisexual, pansexual, polyamourus, genderqueer, trans, or otherwise WEIRD… well then, you need to take a step back, because this conversation is not about you. This conversation is about RIGHTS, and you don’t have any.

I’m annoyed by the president’s statements, but I’m not shocked by them. What really gets my goat is the sanctioning of this crap by gay folks. Do we have no empathy whatsoever? Why doesn’t the experience of having our rights denied cause us to be protective of the rights of others? How can we even call this equality?

2. Basic Rights before Marriage Rights

I live in Michigan. In the state of Michigan, there is a constitutional amendment on the books which prevents the state from recognizing my impending marriage as a marriage, for any purposes whatsoever. Many people think that is ridiculous, and I agree with them (however, if the election in 2004 is any indication, the majority of Michiganders think it’s swell). Actually, one thing that is interesting to me is that many Michiganders aren’t actually aware of that amendment, and I keep having conversations about my engagement that include the questions “so how does that work legally in Michigan?” to which I answer “well, it doesn’t.” The 2004 election was an important milestone on my own path to political awareness (it was the first election I could vote it, the second Bush Jr. election, and the election where Michigan decided that gay marriage was SO ICKY that mere laws against it simply would not do) but I suppose it wasn’t that for everyone.

However, when we act like our inability to marry (legally) is the only injustice going on, we act like fools. Because in Michigan it is also perfectly legal for my employer to fire me because I seem gay. The good news for me is that my employer doesn’t want to fire me for my gayness! I’m a middle class white lady who went to art school, who has a vaguely art-related job, and works with some other gay folks. I’ve been set up on dates with women by people I work with. Folks at work keep congratulating me on my engagement. It’s absolutely fabulous.

The thing is, not everyone has a fabulous job where they can be out and talk about gay stuff. And because discrimination against gay people is in no way protected against, many people have to stay in the closet in order to maintain a job, a job they probably need to survive. And it seems to me that the right to SURVIVE, that right needs to take precedent. So it strikes me as odd that the push for gay marriage has been so strong in recent years, and yet the push for anti-discrimination laws takes a back seat.

Of course, if you are cynical enough, it isn’t all that surprising.

The mainstream gay rights movement is led by gay folks in positions similar to mine. We don’t really need anti-discrimination laws because we have the ability to choose jobs where we feel safe and comfortable. Anti-discrimination laws likely won’t benefit us directly… but you know what would be nice? That’s right, having our relationships sanctioned by the state, and getting the laundry list of benefits that that entails. Which leads us to….

3. When “Gay Rights” = “LGBT Rights”, and How We Love to Forget The T

I’m sure you are going to be totally floored when I take this opportunity to remind you that we live in a patriarchal society. I know, I hoped that I could get through a whole blog post without brining it up too, but I just can’t. Yeah, patriarchy, it blows for all sorts of reasons. Patriarchy is all about hierarchies, and guess who’s at the top? You guessed it! White dudes! Usually straight white dudes, but in the case of lgbtq issues, we will even accept gay white dudes!

So often, when we talk about LGBT rights, or LGBT issues, or LGBT interests… what we are really talking about is gay men and their rights, issues, and interests. I’m not arguing that those things aren’t important, but there’s three more letters in LGBT, and four if you include the Q (I do, I didn’t in this statement or heading because I’m talking about the larger mainstream conversation, which usually doesn’t). We are leaving people out, and we are leaving them out based on where they fall on the patriarchal hierarchy.

And guess who we don’t talk about when we talk about marriage equality? We don’t talk about trans people. We don’t talk about them, even though they are more likely to be murdered than the rest of us. We don’t talk about them. We talk about nice, upstanding gay men, and maybe some nice, upstanding lesbians. But that’s it. I know tons of people who technically fall under the definition of LGBTQ but don’t identify with it, because they see it as all about gay men.

I stopped reading my local LGBT newspaper because they were more likely to publish an article about a straight woman who wrote music or was in a play that gay men love than an article about a gay or queer woman. I’m just saying.

4.”We’ve Been Together for 3,000 Years and We’re Finally Tying The Knot!”

Every time gay marriage gets legalized somewhere, the press is the same. You see a lot of pictures of happy couples getting married at city hall, and I won’t deny that it always brings tears to my eyes. Always. Every single goddamn time. But I’ve also noticed a trend. If you have been with your partner for 20, 10, or maybe even just 7 or 8 years, and you want to get married, the liberal media loves you.

But guess what there’s zero coverage of? Brash, young, crazy in love homos getting married. I haven’t seen any. Granted, I haven’t specifically looked for it, but I have looked at a lot of general gay marriage coverage, and impulsive young people are simply not included.

Is it because we’re trying to be more palatable to the mainstream? It it because we have something to prove (like how committed we are)? Is it because the folks who’ve been waiting for years are more likely to get married on the first day marriage is legal in their city? I don’t have the answers, my guess is a combination of all of the above. But I do think this goes back to my first point, about the GOOD GAYS getting married. Apparently, the mark of a truly Good Gay is that marriage is not the commitment, the commitment is in fact made years before the marriage.

5. “Traditional” American Marriage and Patriarchy, Straightness

One of the biggest arguments against gay marriage that I hear from queer people is this one: marriage is straight, sexist, constrictive, patriarchal institution, so why should we even want it? I want to respond to some of that in a bit (mainly my response boils down to “it hasn’t always been/it doesn’t have to be”) but I do think it’s important to mention the argument.

Many, if not most, of the elements of the average American wedding these days are extremely patriarchal and gendered. In many US states married women could not own their own private property until the 1840s. And while it seems that most present-day Americans prefer more egalitarian relationships, and the practice of say, the father of the bride “giving his daughter away” to the groom is merely a nod at tradition, it’s probably worth pointing out that it isn’t that way for everyone.

I don’t bring all of this up to say that we should reject the term “marriage” outright, but rather to say that it’s probably a little more complicated than “I have the right to get married the same as you do!”

Why I’m Still Getting Hitched

1. Marriage is About Individuals, Not The State

I’m one of those people who thinks that the state shouldn’t have anything to do with anyone’s relationship, and that includes my own. That means that while my state will not recognize my marriage, I still get to have one. Just as most Christians see the ceremony they have in their church with their religious community as witnesses and their religious leader as an officiate as infinitely more important than the marriage license they receive, I see the ceremony we are planning together as infinitely more important than the marriage license we won’t be receiving.

Recently, I was on the phone with a very good friend discussing my engagement and impending wedding, and after we talked about the legal aspect she said “gosh, I’m sorry you have to deal with that.” The only way I could respond was to say that yes, it is frustrating sometimes, but at the same time I feel incredibly lucky that I get to deal with it. I want to make a public commitment with an incredible woman, to spend our lives together, to keep a home together, to take care of each other. That’s what I want, and I asked her, and she said yes, that is what she wants as well. And that is what marriage is about as far as I am concerned. What 60-something percent of voting Michiganders think, or what the president of the United States thinks, it’s not a factor to me because I’m not marrying them.

2. Many Different Forms of Marriage, Not Just Patriarchal Marriage

Historically, throughout the world, many different kinds of marriages have been recognized. While in the US we tend to think of patriarchal marriage as “traditional marriage” that isn’t strictly true. I can definitely see how someone could look at the state of marriage in this country and reject the institution wholesale, I can get it, but it’s not my view.

We do not intend for our wedding, or our marriage, to be a slightly modified version of a patriarchal marriage. We intend to do what queer folks have always done, to build the relationship that makes the most sense for us. It will have some things in common with “traditional marriage” but it will also be very different. The union we have in mind is a covenant, but is not about ownership or control. It’s about forming a family together, a family that starts with two equal partners who love, respect, and honor (but not necessarily obey!) each other.

We’ve talked a lot about our ideas about what a marriage is and isn’t, should and shouldn’t be, can and can’t be, what we want and what we don’t want. I need my queers who are critical of the institution of marriage to please trust me on this one. This is well thought-out, this is not a hasty decision, and this will not be a slightly watered-down or gussied-up version of the thing that you hate.

3. I’m In Love, and I’m Stoked About Calling This Rad Lady My Wife

WordPress says I’ve written almost 3,000 words on this subject, and yet I haven’t gotten all gushy and starry-eyed about my betrothed yet! That is crazy, that simply will not do.

If you haven’t met her, she is simply the best, and if you have you probably don’t need me to tell you how great she is. A few short weeks ago, I took her out on a pedestrian bridge in our neighborhood, and under the moon I told her how much better she has made my life, and me as a person, and how I want to grow with her and continue to let her challenge and change me. Then I offered her the rest of my days, and asked if I might have hers in return. There was a ring. (Quick plug for Emily Wiser, who made the ring, and is incredible) There was crying. There was a toast and a prayer.

Since then I keep having these little moments, moments where I notice how great it all is. Maybe we’ll be talking about something we’ve been meaning to do together, and suddenly we both burst out smiling when we realize we have all the time in the world. Maybe I’ll be talking with a friend about heartache and say “when I’m broken hearted I always ____” and then I realize that doesn’t need to apply to me anymore. Maybe my favorite cat marks her as a member of his pride/family and I realize that he’s absolutely right. Maybe I call her my girlfriend and someone corrects me and says “fiancee” and I have to catch my breath.

That kind of happiness strikes me as a very good reason to get married, despite all the shit.

***

I’ve got about eight months to plan a wedding and make a dress. I’m not sure how much I’ll be posting about it on here, but you know, wish me luck.

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