the real marriage debate

The ladyfriend thinks it's funny lately, in social situations, to mention how I'm opposed to gay marriage. This usually gets at least one lesbian's face to crumble, often because they can only imagine that it is some form of self hatred or internalized shame. Like I'm going to say "Yes, I think we are deviants and should be kept in legal limbo for punishment." It is funny, but also awkward, to explain why I'm opposed. What's worse is that when I advocate for the abolition of all marriage, they say "Oh, well then. . ." First, as if it isn't a challenge to all marriage (gay or not) and second, as if it is a ridiculous notion that doesn't need to be engaged.This interview is from Bitch magazine's summer issue. I excerpted the relevant parts, the sections that had me panting and saying "yes, yes,yes." It articulates many things I often struggle to say an intelligently. It's an interview with queer activist Matilda (aka Matt Bernstein) by Debbie Rasmussen...
Some of the essays in That's Revolting seem to suggest that the anti-assimilation movement is new -- hasn't it always been there, but now it's playing out differently?

Definitely. There's always been a tension between the assimilationist and liberationist models of queer struggle. In the '70s, for instance, there were radical queer activists and there were rich gay lobbyists. But there was a sense of balance, because even the rich gay people were stigmatized. What's happened in the last 10 to 15 years is that people with some kind of privilege are now able to be out
and also keep their privilege. So Rosie O'Donnell, after years of calling activists Nazis for outing her, can come out and be a spokesperson for "gay and lesbian issues." And those kinds of people -- gay people with the most privilege -- have repositioned their desires as everyone else's needs.

Take universal healthcare. In the early '90s, this was almost a mainstream queer issue. So many people had died of AIDS, and there was recognition that if people had access to healthcare, a lot more people would still be alive. But then the priority shifted from universal health-care to gays in the military -- the ultimate irony. That was a big turning point. Now the assimilationist model is so dominant that more radical and liberationist politics and identities are being erased. That's what assimilation means -- cultural erasure. All the resistance or threat within a queer identity is erased. The assimilationist agenda fights for an end to discrimination in housing and employment, but not for the provision of housing or jobs; domestic-partner health coverage, but not universal health coverage. Even with anti-queer violence, the terms of the debate are about tougher hate-crime laws, instead of fighting the underlying systems of racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia.

So now, when the queers say they want to abolish marriage and the military, they're considered so out there, whereas 10 to 15 years ago, there was more of a balance. There were still gay people willing to step on the backs of anyone to get ahead, but they didn't have such a stranglehold on all public representations of what it means to be queer.

Which highlights the limitations of any identity-based movement that isn't' rooted in a deeper political critique, or that's disconnected from other movements.

Right. As the people with the most privilege develop more access to power, they take everything that's a threat out of the queer identity -- whatever it is. And it becomes "We need a place at the table in the White House," instead of "We need to get housing for people on the streets." We see it all the time -- people with some privilege access more power, oppress everyone else, and call it progress.

But unfortunately, I think a lot of people are drawn to the assimilationsist model -- it offers a very easy way out. [People think], Oh, we don't actually have to change the system, all we need to do is become part of it, and then everything will be okay. But especially for people living in this dominant colonial power, everything we do we are doing on the backs of other people, people who are dying -- both inside this country and outside.

The idea of reforming marriage is often brought up within certain threads of feminist and/or queer organizing

how can you be a feminist and support marriage? Marriage is a central institution of misogyny, patriarchal violence, and oppression. If we're trying to get rid of these things, we gotta get rid of marriage. It's just very basic.

People talk about marriage as a privilege -- the state sanctioning this one type of carnal coupling, this monogamous, long-term "stable" relationships. A relationship that maybe will get you a really bad health plan, or maybe get you some inheritance rights, or maybe will get you to stay in the country for a little longer instead of, again, talking about universal access to things like that.

Take hospital visitation rights: Anyone should be able to choose anyone to visit them in the hospital -- whether it's someone related to them or someone they met three days ago. So this argument that marriage solves the issue -- what does that solve? It means that the state is sanctioning this one type of carnal coupling sot hat one person is allowed to visit you? [Laughs.] And only if you have that one person.

And people ask all the time, "Can't marriage be a stepping-stone, a beginning?" My answer, of course, is no: Becoming part of a violent system that despises you is just a stepping stone to suicide and cultural erasure. If those are the goals, sure, marriage will get us there.

The push to legalize queer marriage also seems likely to damage what progress had been made in broadening definitions of relationships, family, gender, sexuality. Marriage is increasingly cast as the ideal relationship.

Right. People say things like, "Oh, finally, it's legitimate!" Queer people who have had successful relationships with one or tow or five or 10 partners over a number of years, or who prioritize a friendship that may not be sexual, or who have a whole close-knit chosen family that includes any number of different people, from fuck buddies to friends who've been around for 20 years -- all those different ways of living are being erased for the idea that "Now we have to have this one thing -- that's the legitimate one, and everything else comes after that."

For me, the potential for queer identity lies in creating new ways of loving one another, lusting for one another, and taking care of one another -- transformative things outside the status quo. There are other ways of being together and being monogamous and having stability. People can have a monogamous long-term relationship that's amazing and radical and transformative. But it doesn't' have to be this institution that is fundamentally oppressive.

What's your response to people who argue that trying to abolish marriage is a waste of time because it's never going to happen?

Angela Davis has a great quote about prison-abolition work; she says that many people say that we're never going to abolish prisons, but that's what people said about slavery. And while slavery continues through a prison-industrial complex that keeps black people in jail and uses their labor at a very reduced cost, just because it seems implossible now doesn't mean it shouldn't be the goal.

And silencing the marriage-abolition perspective furthers the myth that there are only two sides to the [queer-marriage] debate: those who are for it and those who are against it. People who oppose marriage are shut out of the picture, since we expose the gay-marriage movement for what it is -- a grab for privilege.

Do people criticize you for picking on a movement that's already marginalized?

Oh my god, yeah. The assertion is more like, "Mainstream gay people aren't the real enemy." And my answer is, when residents of a gay neighborhood like San Francisco's Castro fight against a queer youth shelter; when gay people across the country enact neighborhood "beautification" programs that mean getting rid of the trannies, the sex workers, the poor people, the people of color; when gay political consultants engineer elections to elect anti-poor, pro-development candidates, mainstream gay people actually become the real enemy. And mainstream gay people have to be held accountable by someone. Straight people aren't going to do it. The only possibility of holding mainstream gay people accountable is from queers.

I think the way mainstream gay people -- those with power and privilege -- position it as either us or the Christian right is very convenient. But they serve the same violent system -- the same war machine, the same erasing of identities, the same model of marriage and military service. And sure, the Christian right is an enemy, but in some ways it's a lot less threatening than mainstream gay people, who use this sham of gay pride or gay community as a screen behind which to oppress everyone else and get away with it.

All of that is to say, that I find straight marriage as problematic, unradical, and disapointing as any gay one -- and not just because of the bad dresses.


Blogger tarte suite said...

Respectfully, the ladyfriend (moi) submits and admits that she's a bit of a shit-stirrer. Yet, I hope that my very own hot ticket will be soothed by the fact that I believe she is so persuasive and so well-respected that any opportunity she has to raise the issue will be productive.

5:04 PM  
Blogger Body Mascot said...

Much like my own marriage, I love and am tormented by this entry.

5:45 PM  
Blogger good golly said...

hyperbole is my biggest foe and most constant companion.

i wish to soften the ending of that entry by this admission. it was not intended as an accusation, but an equally shit-stirring conversation starter.

12:10 AM  
Blogger Body Mascot said...

I hope you're not softening the ending on my account, because I'll be the first to admit that marriage is decidedly unradical, and that yes, the dresses are awful. I'd stop short of declaring all marriage disappointing, but that's only because mine is, so far, the healthiest love-type thing I've done to date, though that may not be saying much.

The thing I've been on the bandwagon about lately in regards to marriage is that I don't appreciate having mine declared as "straight." I'm a Bisexual woman, not to mention a retired sex worker. Any marriage of mine is automatically Queered by my presence in it, whether I'm practicing monogamy or not. On the other hand, I'm still working out whether marriage as an institution can be redeemed via subversion, and whether being married at all does more harm than good on the radical front. But, in the mean time, a toast: to shit-stirring.

11:54 AM  
Blogger good golly said...

I agree with matilda, that any marriage -- straight, flexible, bi-identified, gay, or otherwise -- can never be queer.

Not to say that you're relationship can't be queered, of course one can. However, I don't think identities (bisexual, former sex worker, gay, etc) queer anything. Identity politics are anti-queer in many ways. I think what a queer relationship requires is an investigation of gender, sex, power, race and economics. I think that often people who identify as gay, bi, etc use that as a shortcut to defining their status as queer, but they are very different things, for me.

I believe that subversion can come from within, but I think that actual change requires outside motivation. Otherwise it is simply change, adaptation; marriage assimilating other institutions/arrangments into it's monolithic configuration.

But I do make allowances for the real world circumstances in which I -- and others -- live. It is hard to turn down tax breaks, it is hard to negogiate explanations of non-traditional arrangments, harder still to see a privilege (health care, frequent flier miles, inheretance) and turn it down. I am not being dismissive and I am not trying to be trite. I think that the pressure to conform one's relationships to marriagable analogies is immense and often painful. But I also think that's what queerness demands of me.

As you can see, I can go on and on and on about this. And love to; it's something I struggle with constantly.

5:04 PM  
Blogger tarte suite said...

I love you.

7:28 PM  
Blogger good golly said...

wanna get married?

ha ha ah ah. its late and i have so much work to do that just typing that gave me a belly laugh.

11:51 PM  
Blogger Body Mascot said...

I concede and am humbled.

9:36 AM  
Blogger good golly said...

Friends in the most unlikely of places.

This gem comes from Feminist Mormon Housewives (http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=272#more-272")

"I tend to think it is a religious issue, not a political one, which means it is part of “let them worship … how they may.” I take the contrary position purely on faith and obedience, with hope that I will receive further knowledge.

I’d like to see the state completely out of marriage. Let there be state civil unions, let religions do marriage.

And, of course, we have counsel that civil unions are acceptable for all."

This from a poster who is opposed to the gays. Crazy!

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Blue Cross of California said...

I think universal health care can be a great towards our health care system. I would like to see our health care system improve.

11:42 PM  

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