I came out to myself in 1982, and to everyone else in 1985. You remember what that was like, the early 80’s right? It was just beginning to be OK to tell people you were gay or lesbian, or bisexual. That is, if you lived on one of the coasts. (I lived in Cleveland, OH, at the time, which basically almost counts.) It was the beginning of a long, tragic period of dealing with the AIDS epidemic. For lesbians, it was the middle-to-end-ish of the lesbian separatist movement.
I was being a good graduate student, I was only really observing what was going on for lesbian separatists at the time. My personal philosophy of life didn’t quite fit, anyway. But there were a lot of them around me in Cleveland Heights, where I lived. And it was interesting, for sure.
I remember having discussions about monogamy, which is something I’ve never thought was an especially good idea for human beings to aspire to, even though personally, I’ve yet to have more than one romantic attachment at a time. And lifelong monogamy… human beings are not birds. None of our closest relatives are monogamous at all, and only about 5 percent of all mammals form life-long pair bonds. I have no earthly idea why people think humans should do it. (I’m not saying that no one can do it, people do. I am saying it is absurd to generally expect it.)
Anyway, back then, among lesbians, marriage was considered something between unnecessary, and, well, you know, aping the patriarchy. It just wasn’t on the agenda. The right to freely live one’s life without discrimination – that was on the agenda.
But, you know what happened? People got older, they settled down into mainstream life. They had kids. They got Subarus. The reality of living life as a couple without the benefits and assurances of their straight married neighbors rankled. Understandably so. But I have to admit, since I’d been busy doing other things, I kinda got whiplash when I realized it had become the agenda (along with gays in the military. But that’s another blog post.)
If I had been there, at whatever meeting it was at the Task Force, or the HRC, or whatever, I would have stood up and said that our agenda should be to get the state out of marriage altogether. Let any number of adults make contracts with each other, and the state should not be in the business of sanctioning what is basically a social and religious thing.
And, of course, I would have been laughed out of the room as being unrealistic. But I think that in the pursuit of the practical, we lost sight of the big picture. Many people find nuclear family life to be satisfying. Kids playing in the den, their husband or wife by their side – that’s satisfying to them. It brings them joy. But not all of us are like that. Some of us would find that life to be stultifying, or just simply not the right life. There are many reasons for this – each person who feels this way has their own reason.
One of the things I remember most about that period when I was first coming out was the sense of possibility. The possibility to live in a way that was different than the norm, without apology. That sense that we could force the dominant culture to accept us on our own terms. But that’s not what happened, is it? We’ve been forced into fighting for the right to become just like everyone else. And what’s even worse is that sometimes people feel pressured to get married. And I’m darned sure that gay marriages are not likely to be much more successful than straight ones. Even when everyone can get “gay married” there still won’t be a whole lot of social affirmation for people who choose other options than nuclear family life (i.e 2 adults and 0+ children).
I do think that the relatively imminent demise (OK, I’m being a little optimistic) of the restrictions against gays and lesbians marrying is an opportunity. An opportunity to have the conversation about what is marriage for, anyway?
I know, you’ll say “to raise children”, “or to provide companionship.” That’s not what I’m talking about. People will always form romantic and child-rearing relationships of one type or another. We’re human beings. We do that sort of thing. But why on earth should the state be in the position of telling people who or how many adults may do this, and under what circumstances? That simply doesn’t make sense anymore.
I know. I’m not holding my breath.