Monthly Archives: April 2013

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.

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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.

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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!!!!”

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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?

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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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