Getting het up

equals-signThere’s something that’s bothering me about the Equal Marriage debate, and I’m having trouble putting my finger on it.

Well, okay, there are a number of things bothering me about it, but I’ve already ranted here at length about how it’s still being referred to by the media and politicians and other people with various vested interests as “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage”, which between them exclude a whole load of people who are not gay, or are intersex, or are non-binary in gender.

But the thing that’s bothering me at the moment is about sex and love – and I’m writing this as someone who’s more or less asexual, so I don’t have the same perspective as people who are sexual, I’m sort of a disinterested party.

It seems to me that in some way, Equal Marriage is being marketed as a way of “making queer people more acceptable” – because some of the general public are squeamish about the idea of non-het* people having sex. So all the Equal Marriage rhetoric is about loving, committed relationships, which is in itself perfectly valid (given that the discussion is about marriage), but there’s this undertone of “you can like queer people more if you think of them as being loving, rather than as people who shag differently from you.” This squeamishness, by the way, naturally extends itself towards trans* people, whom many cis-het people insist on not seeing as being their true gender/sex.

I’ve got mixed feelings about being bothered by this. I’m bothered on behalf of people who do not wish to be judged-and-condemned for enjoying non-het sex, and yet whose acceptability, it seems, is being made to be dependent on the more “respectable” face of romantic commitment. On the other hand, I’m glad to see a recognition of queer connectedness as being not just about sex, too, since there’s something of an over-focus in the community and in the media on that aspect, i.e. the assumption that if you’re not het, then your sexuality is all about sex, and not about, for example, whom you fall in love with.

But there’s something a bit smug in the “we’re just like you, we want to settle down and be domestic” sort of message, which contains more than a pinch of theistic “marriage sanctifies sex.” And that’s probably what is really behind most of the discomfort of people who want to “keep marriage traditional”, because they can’t bring themselves to imagine sex receiving any kind of blessing at all if it’s not going to be het sex.

To my mind, Equal Marriage is not about Marriage, it’s about equality. Citizens should have equal rights regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. As I’ve said before, I think that if a relationship is legal, it should be legal to solemnise it if the people in it want to – marriage, for those who want it, should simply be gender-neutral, sexuality-neutral, and not limited to couples.

I’m still piecing together why this all bothers me so. In the end, it’s something like the het world trying to absorb us like grit in an oyster, instead of taking on the challenge of accepting diversity in its many, many forms. And it’s also a celebration of the insularity of coupledom, worshipping it as the pinnacle of an imagined hierarchy of kinds of love. Humour me, this is the best I can do at the moment.

recycled-silk[*I’m using het as a shorthand for heterosexual because that’s too long a word, and I don’t like the word straight, and I think being het doesn’t deserve more syllables than being gay or bi or pan or ace, it’s just one of the possible orientations.

The bottom image is of skeins of recycled silk – I just thought it was a good image for an ideal intertwining of diversities. The top image is, um… just me wanting to mess with the apparent paradigm of “Equal Marriage is about passion, therefore scarlet.” Sometimes you just follow your nose and in my case, I often end up somewhere emerald.]

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7 comments on “Getting het up

  1. Really interesting post, thanks for this. I had never really thought about it in this way.

    • womandrogyne says:

      Thanks – I’m sort of thinking out loud, here, and it’s still all pretty subjective! I’m just fed up with the media et al. not seeing the Equality for the Marriage (in a wood/trees kind of way).

    • “And it’s also a celebration of the insularity of coupledom, worshipping it as the pinnacle of an imagined hierarchy of kinds of love.”

      Yes, indeed. And many other good insights shared in that post, too.

      I’ve found it to be both a blessing and a curse to be among the generally unwelcome and unappreciated “different”. It is a curse because, like most people, I don’t want to wear even light armor or be self-defensive … or even have to explain why how I am is just fine, thank you. I’d rather that I lived in a society which trutly welcomed difference and diversity. And isn’t it interesting that most of us do welcome difference and diversity in flower gardens while tending to want to suppress it in human variability?

      So how is it a blessing that I am among the “unappreciated different”? It is a blessing because I am forced to question many very basic assumptions of “mainstream society,” and in so doing help us evolve and open beyond too-tight and narrow conceptions of what is good or acceptable. This necessity in my life hones my creativity and imagination as much as my compassion and empathy–all of which are about opening. Opening like the unfolding petals of a flower.

      Mainstream society–in most places (I live in the USA)–does indeed worship the insularity of the couple as the pinnacle of an imagined hierarchy of kinds of love, as you say. As such, with regard to how I tend–and prefer–to love, I’m an outsider and an outcast in several crucial ways all at once. “Normal,” acceptable, conventional people don’t have to worry about whether or when to “come out” to friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers…. Queer people do. And as a bisexual and biamorous man I fit that category. But I also fit the non-monogamy category, being that I’m polyamorous. Being bi usually doesn’t require explanation, but being poly often does, partly because so many poly folk prefer the relative comfort of the closet.

      My hope is that one day the various cultures of our world will come to welcome and appreciate differences of all kinds, so long as no one is harmed as a result of people choosing to live as they will. I can’t imagine who I might be harming by being bi and poly. So it’s a little odd that I often feel a little self-defensive about it, as if it were something I should keep to myself.

      Then again, my trepidation about coming out is perfectly understandable. All of my life “mainstream society” has not been all that approving of folks like me. Homophobia and heterosexism have surely softened up in the culture, though. That’s good.

  2. I think what bothers me about the marriage equality debate is that it reinforces the idea that married people should get more benefits and special treatment than us single folks – even those of us who CHOOSE to remain single. The gay marriage movement is in part so gay couples can be recognized by hospitals, etc, who at the moment wouldn’t necessarily allow a same sex significant other into the room. But what about people who never marry? Do we not deserve the same tax, insurance, etc benefits as married folks regardless of their gender or orientation? You’re right; this is about equality, not hetero white washing. But if that’s the case, then maybe we should do away with all the bells and whistles that come with marriage, too.

    • womandrogyne says:

      Agreed. The point is that everybody should have the same choices available to them.
      I don’t know whether hospitals etc. treat unmarried mixed-sex couples any differently from how they treat unmarried same-sex couples, though (leaving aside individual discrimination, and just talking about general spousal rights compared to partner rights), so what’s needed across the board is some way of registering your partner as your preferred next-of-kin analogue with those services, if you’re not married/civil-partnered.
      Most people I know who are in favour of equal marriage as a principle do not themselves want to marry, they’re just objecting to their government deciding on their behalf (under pressure from religious institutions) who doesn’t get to be married. I’m so tired of hearing people say “I’m against same-sex marriage, but I’m not homophobic.” Pff…

      • Me too. If you have to say “I’m not ___, BUT…” then you are that thing. XD Kind of like when you say “no offense, but…” Pretty sure what you’re going to say is offensive.

      • womandrogyne says:

        Heh, yes, or when people say “…but don’t you think that ?” when what they’re really saying is “You don’t think this, but I do – and I’m right.”
        I had that when I came out to someone pretty conservative as being trans, and after I’d explained about my history, they said “But don’t you think your gender issues are a result of your abuse experience?” (because everybody suddenly becomes a voluntary shrink, yawn), to which I replied (because I was a bit fed up with them by that point) “Well no, obviously I don’t think that, or I’d have said what you just said, instead of what I just said.”
        That was fun :).
        I don’t think I replied properly to your comment, before. I meant to add that I think couples (or any other permutation of committed relationship) should have an accepted way to make a contract together that’s recognised as practical rather than rewarding “romance” – which is pretty much what extra benefits for wedded couples amounts to these days.

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