Don’t H8? Don’t assimil8.

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.

14 Responses to “Don’t H8? Don’t assimil8.”


  1. 1 wyatt riot February 9, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    you are a breath of fresh air.

  2. 2 Sig February 9, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    You make an interesting point and to be honest my thoughts on the issue of marriage are quite chaotic. In general, it’s an economic structure for me which has additional social functions. This is the only place government should come in for me – to regulate what’s important for the market. I might be wrong about US, but in Europe civil partnerships exist on similar basis thus why not give everyone this option instead of marriage? Marriage is generally a sexist concept with a dubious history.

    On the other hand, I’m from a very bigotted country where conforming to the norm is the big thing. Having equal marriage rights would be huge and have a great impact on society, especially because it’s a Catholic country. For many queer people it’s the be it all end it all and they even argue amongst themselves about it.

  3. 3 Sara February 10, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    You needed money “badly” this past summer? Your parents are Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. Multi millionaires. You reject privilege yet you were brought up in a mansion in Beverly Hills. Somethings you say/write just never add up. Do I hear the sound of hypocrisy ringing through the streets? Yup. And it has nothing at ALL to do with gender preference or racism. It’s just about being honest about your OWN privilege, past and present.

    • 4 Stephen February 10, 2012 at 7:45 pm

      I’ve experienced a lot of economic privilege in my life, you’re absolutely right. However, I ask you not to make assumptions about my life. For very personal reasons related to my trans status, I was in an extremely difficult financial situation for several years. (I don’t feel obliged to expand on those reasons, because as I said, they’re very personal.) Keep in mind that although you’ve read my blog or maybe read about me in news media, that doesn’t mean that you know the details of my life. Please do not make assumptions about information you couldn’t possibly have access to.

  4. 5 Sara February 11, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    You are right. I should not have assumed that because I do understand the difficulty and anguish you’ve faced in transitioning. I just thought that you had complete support from the beginning. I apologize. Nothing is ever black or white and I should have realized you’ve been on your own for a very long time by virtue of your writings. We may disagree politically, but I think you are a very brave young man who has a lot of courage and integrity.

  5. 6 e. benjamin February 12, 2012 at 2:20 am

    Well said, sir!
    (totally tangential and beside the point, but as a queer on the other side of 40, while I don’t doubt that you were hit on by dudes who happened to be gay and older and creepy, too often “creepy” and “older gay man” get conflated. Can they just be, like, “creepy people”?)
    Thanks for your thoughtful work!

  6. 7 Kristen February 12, 2012 at 6:14 am

    First I want to say that you are brilliant and your words beautiful. Next, I want to say that while you make excellent and very valid points, I want gay marriage to be legal not because it then proclaims someone normal. I want it legal because as a person who pays taxes and is a citizen of this country, I want my close friend who happens to be gay to have the same legal right to do with his relationship what I as a divorced woman have the right to do. I’d also like to see him get the same financial benefits I would get such as not paying taxes on health benefits and being able to file a joint tax return.

    I don’t think you or anyone else need anyone to validate who you are or deem you normal or loveable. But I do want you to have the same rights that I have. You deserve it. Your boyfriend deserves it. Everyone does.

    One more thing about the boyfriend that really is none of my business. I’m very happy you’re in love and that you found someone you trust and want to be with. You are young and I don’t say that in a demeaning or condescending way. I say it in the way of a 44 year old woman who was in love a few times. Take your time. There’s a lot of world out there. I wish for you a happily ever after or even a few of them.

  7. 8 Mason (@crashtwitty) March 26, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    being in san francisco and santa barbara during the whole prop 8 debacle i too got wrangled into the fire but only briefly because within 2 weeks of volunteering [read: getting forced into my own neighborhood to berate other poc about being anti prop 8/being made to feel guilty for not donating money] i realized that the white cis people i was arrested with were treated better than me once we were detained and no one was really concerned about anything but making straight people like us which is something that even if i believed in marriage will never be true for me.

    equality california was run by doofy white men who had already acquired their houses, health insurance, toy dogs, and pottery barn sets and just wanted paperwork. i’m so glad i got out when i did…. now if only i could get people to stop funneling their money into consuming goods/attending events funded by people who hate them

  8. 10 Ronny Chacin May 8, 2012 at 6:39 am

    Don’t get me wrong, I love your writings and I think they are super cool, I respect everything you say and I truly believe in everything you write, I am a cis gay man, and I also think you are a very smart interesting guy that I would definitely date if the circumstances were given, but if you want a change, you should probably start doing it yourself, RACE as I believe is a misconception of phenotypical appearances, Humans are all ONE race. I am of Venezuelan origin, and most Hispanics as we are called in this county are a mixture of many many different ethnic groups including Europeans, native americans, blacks, asians, and you name it, and this mixture happened so long ago that I’m pretty positive everybody lost track of it. I don’t see myself as a member of any RACE other than Human Race, if we “Humans” keep putting labels based on the way each one of us look, there’s just never going to be a change, I truly believe in that. When I put labels on successful smart people calling them, Black, Hispanic, I am in a way just saying Why this person which belongs to a minority has achieved something usually whites only achieve? at least is the way I see it. We need if we want to change overcome the oppression of putting labels to people. Keep doing what you do Stephen. My best regards.

  9. 11 ezractlyy July 29, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    This is a really thought provoking article….and I understand all that you’re saying against state sanctioned unions….but, what about the whole issue of someone’s partner being at the hospital, visitation rights? I’m sure you’ve seen the viral video circling around, “It could happen to you” about the guy whose boyfriend was in an accident, and he wasn’t allowed to see him in the hospital, and he died. The thing is a lot of people are willing to enter into a legal union, marriage, that might be problematic in some ways, but they’re doing it so they are able to get the benefits that come with marriage which they feel that they might desperately need one day. Do you think there are alternate solutions to the hospital rights problem that don’t involve marriage? If not I just think the best stance is, encourage people to do what they feel comfortable doing, I’d be willing to never legally marry but I know a lot of people where not having the rights that come with it would be a huge dealbreaker. And as another commenter said, though it as framed as normalization of being queer which isn’t necessarily a good thing, the good part of the “normalization” is getting certain legal rights equal to straight people, the benefits that come with marriage. But man, this whole “marriage debate”, as in anti-assimilation vs. for marriage has been eating at me for a while since I first heard about gay groups against marriage a few months ago. I keep thinking I’ve decided which side I’m on and then it’s like…nope. I imagine the solutions to the hospital rights dilemma that you and other anti-assimilationists would propose would involve huge changes in the current U.S. government, changing the definition of a “family” legally and all that fun stuff? And I’m all for that. I just think sometimes, marriage equality might have to come first for some people to get benefits and rights they need, just to have peace of mind and be safe, and then more radical change could come after. I dooo wholeheartedly agree that framing marriage equality as THE QUEER RIGHTS ISSUE of the generation is just screwed up with the more serious problems queer and especially trans* people face.

    • 12 Stephen July 29, 2012 at 11:55 pm

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Hospital visitation rights (and other rights to have proper contact with one’s family etc) are super important! I think the solution is to try to restructure how we understand the legal “family” to allow for all kinds of families: chosen families, poly families, kids cared for by guardians who don’t take a parental role, all kinds of things. I don’t think the solution here is just to expand marriage–rather, I think we should create forms of legal protection and recognition that allow everyone the right to contact with their loved ones.

      • 13 ezractlyy August 9, 2012 at 12:40 am

        Thank you for the reply ^^ I definitely agree. I just think at this point, since these changes haven’t taken root yet there’s a lot of people who feel like they need to marry for the security and peace of mind, in case an accident were to happen to one of them. it’s a shame that your proposition hasn’t been made into law already because it’s a great idea!


  1. 1 I wrote something about why I’m against “marriage equality” and you can read it if you want to! | Trackback on January 1, 2013 at 11:08 am

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