Saturday, April 3, 2004

First Comes Love

First Comes Love
Laurel Dykstra

As a queer mom I find the images of gay and lesbian weddings quite moving; I have downloaded some so my kids can see weddings that aren’t heterosexual. And yeah, I think that adults who want to should be allowed to marry legally, but rather than celebrating the recent steps towards gay marriage as a progressive victory I think we need to take a broader look at what family means and how families are really living.

I wish most people who talk about gay marriage and about so called family values knew as much about family as my two-year-old twins. They know that some families have two mamas or papas, that some have one of each, some have grandparents, some have one parent, and some grown-ups live alone while others live with friends. In their own family they include each other, myself (“We grew inna your belly”), their sperm-donor Papa, five grandparents, one great-grandmother, numerous aunts and uncles (bio and other), several godparents, a cousin and some of the friends who share our house. Their circle includes a variety of sexual and gender expressions, some racial diversity, and lots of people with disabilities but the girls know that love and caring are what is important. They also know what those who so enthusiastically endorse marriage for gays or straights seem to neglect, that sometimes people in families need to stop living together.

I am just old enough and out of the closet long enough to remember when people used to say with a certain lift of the eyebrow, “Oh Sally, she’s family.” I still jump up and dance when they play the song “We are family, I got all my sisters and me.” It speaks to me of a radical inclusion where the meanest bull dyke, the skankiest drag queen and the scrawniest trans-man are all sisters and brothers who deserve to be treated with love and respect just because they are. That’s the kind of family that I want for my kids.

Referring to one another as family has fallen out of use, and in the late eighties and nineties, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people began to take back the word queer. Taking a word that had been used by outsiders to hurt and control us, we used Queer with a capital Q to say, “Yeah, we’re Queer and Queer is good. It’s good to be different, it’s good to resist, it’s good to love who we love, and it’s good to support one another.” The term is meant to acknowledge important differences like race, gender, and class but to show that in our outsider status and our determination to be ourselves and love who we love we have some common experiences and goals.

And that shows up my biggest problem with the marriage thing, essentially it is a gay victory, it says, “See, we’re just like you. We blend right in. We’ll be good.” The marriage issue allows us to be divided against one another on the basis of how willing or able we are to conform to heterosexual norms. Are we the marrying kind or the other kind? It represents heterosexual society’s grudging approval of some of us and I want much more for myself and the people I love. I want Queer acceptance and solidarity.

Why do people assume that marriage deserves some special status? Partnership and commitment I understand, but historically, marriage was a property contract which controlled a woman’s sexual expression for a man’s benefit. However we romanticize and dress that up its still pretty creepy. Idealizing the privacy and sanctity of marriage and the nuclear family has allowed for the epidemic of domestic violence and has kept women and children trapped in abusive situations. The practical benefits of marriage, like tax breaks and health care, are based on the idea that there is a “head” of every household. Do we support this idea? When benefits are combined in same-sex partnerships it is the already privileged, the middle class, who will benefit most. I think gays and lesbians, bis and trans people who have experienced discrimination and exclusion need to look out for the weakest members of our family, not just improve the lot of the best off.

Most marriages end in divorce, most people straight and queer spend years of their lives single. Shouldn’t each of us, whether married or single, have health care and the right to choose who will visit us in the hospital? What about friends? How do we acknowledge the people who support us who are neither spouse nor blood relation? Queer youth are the most vulnerable members of the Queer community. They have a terrifyingly high suicide rate and are frequently forced on to the street by homophobic families and peers. What protection do we offer to them? What about people who live in poverty because they do not conform to a single gender?

All of these issues are complex and cannot be solved by a mayor’s action or a court decision but they cannot be solved at all if we do not address them and choose to stop after smiling over the wedding pictures.

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