I’m from the “marriage equality”-obsessed generation of queers. As soon as we knew that some people weren’t straight, we were fed the message that gays were only a step or two away from full equality–whatever that meant–and that the most important step was same-sex marriage. In talking about our lives, we were told to pull out the fact that we couldn’t get married as the best example of our second class status. No one said a word like “transgender,” much less “queer.”
No one explained how marriage would make people stop calling us faggots and dykes. They didn’t say how it would get us access to the mental health care we needed to deal with being queers in a school system designed to “normalize” us. They just held up signs that said “FULL EQUALITY NOW.” And we wanted full equality. I mean, who wouldn’t? Besides, it was a way to hope for the future we’d hoped for before–a future where we could be people in the same way our straight peers were people.
Plus, we wanted to do this whole gay thing right. We were getting the sense that there was history here, and a larger community, and we wanted to be a part of that. We figured that this was what being gay was about. Wanting to get married and raise some cute kids who could testify to Congress about how your family was normal.
No one said to us, “Prioritizing ‘marriage equality’ ignores much more urgent problems, such as queer youth suicide, racism against queer people of color from white straights and white queers, and the marginalization of trans people.”
No one said to us, “State-sanctioned marriage is rooted in sexism and the idea of women-as-goods-for-exchange.”
No one said to us, “State-sanctioned marriage privileges and legitimizes certain relationships. It requires queers to prove that we are not ‘sluts,’ that we are strictly monogamous, that we promise to be normative and good from now on.”
Yesterday, Prop 8 was declared unconstitutional. I watched a video in which a young man spoke to a cheering crowd. He said that now his family, a queer family, was normal. Hearing this made me feel awful, somehow panicked. Then it made me think about Prop 8 and my history with it. It’s intimately bound up in the history of my queer identity, because from the moment I knew about gay people, I knew about gay marriage, and I was told that it was what all gay people wanted.
As it turns out, gay marriage is just like acting straight to avoid getting a beat down in a high school locker hall. And, like acting straight to avoid bullies, it is rarely effective as a way of making life less violent, and only then for a few people.
This summer I worked as a street canvasser. Specifically, I canvassed on behalf of Freedom to Marry. I needed money badly at the time, and the job paid, although conditions were poor. Why does this kind of grassroots work pay, you ask? It’s complicated and kind of fucked up. Basically, if you feel leery about that, you’re right to feel so. But I was a trans guy in college who needed to pay for transition expenses. I was not saying no to a job that I was good at.
It was weird, standing in the street with a clipboard asking people to donate money to “marriage equality,” especially when I knew that the gay obsession with marriage ignored my rights as a queer trans man. The fact that I was working to pay for my transition just added another layer of surreal queer conflict. Plus, I got hit on by more creepy older gay men that summer than I have in my whole life. (I eventually asked to be transferred to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund campaign, where I got hit on a lot less and yelled at a lot more.)
Same sex marriage got passed in New York, of course. I have not noticed being any more free, any more equal. If I do, I’ll let you know.
I want to marry my boyfriend. I do. I want it in a huge mysterious way, which is I guess the only way you can want to get married, because the idea of marriage is beautiful and mysterious and huge. I do believe that. I believe in marriage. I believe in the notion of committing yourself to a lover or lovers for the rest of your life. I believe, anthropology student that I am, in the cultural value of marriage, and many of the cultural logics behind marriage. And I want the whole thing–the wedding, walking down the aisle, being given away, a nice suit for me and for him, all of it.
For a long time, this desire for my own marriage, coupled with the ideas I’d been fed about “marriage equality” as the be-all-end-all of being queer, made me think that these queer critics of gay marriage were misguided. But while I watched many of my Californian queers rejoice about Prop 8’s latest legal defeat, it all started to slot into place in my head.
I don’t want to marry my boyfriend so that a white supremacist, cis supremacist, sexist, ableist, capitalist government whose history is rooted in genocide and slavery will stamp a gold star on some papers and say, “Okay, now you get to participate in this institution that was made legal in order to facilitate rendering women pieces of property!” I want to marry my boyfriend because I love him and I want him to be my husband.
As a queer trans guy, I don’t trust the government to treat me like a human being in almost any capacity. Why have I spent so long thinking I needed them to arbitrate my relationships?
Does this mean I think “marriage is between a man and a woman”? No, I think marriage is between you and your partner and that the government should shut the fuck up. I don’t trust the government with such a potent cultural signifier! I want legal recognition for my relationship, sure, so that I know that the fuckers won’t try to keep him from me, or steal our kids, or destroy our queer lives in other various ways. But hold up, I want legal recognition for people with multiple lovers too, and for all the other people with life partnerships that don’t fit into the cultural notion of marriage.
In other words:
Queer leaders who hold up those “FULL EQUALITY NOW” signs–please put them down, ok? Thank god I’ve come out from the other side of that rhetoric now. Please stop feeding our youth the message that they need to be “normal” and married like straight people can be. It hurt me more than I realized for a long time.
I don’t want to be straight; I don’t want to assimilate; I want to love my boyfriend.
And by the way: A month ago, I reviewed Dean Spade’s Normal Life, in which he skewers the neoliberal white cis gay activist establishment, and I’d like to take this opportunity to recommend it again, as well as Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage, ed. Ryan Conrad. Both of these texts put it better than I ever could. Also, QUEERS READ THIS.