My friend Stephanie writes a series of facebook statuses called “I’m An Asshole.” She prefaces these posts by saying, “I’m an Asshole, #573,” or whatever number, and then proceeds to say something opinionated.
And really, by “I’m an Asshole,” she just means, “I’m about to say something that most of you are going to disagree with, but deal with it.”
Consider this my “I’m an Asshole” post. I’m fairly certain that a lot of people will read it and be like, “WOW, Amelia’s a raging, insensitive jerk.” But no, I’m not. I’m just going to say a few things that are likely foreign to you, especially if you’re an American.
Firstly (and this is something that might really shock people who know me well), at 24 years of age, I’m still trying to figure myself out politically. I say this even though I’ve done work as a reproductive justice activist, and am a gender, sexuality, and women’s studies major. And I say it even though my parents refer to me as the “Hippie Police” because I’m trying to get them on board with the idea that organic food and recycling are good for them.
There is one major reason for my constant insecurity and uneasiness about how I identify. And it’s that the two-party system we live under in this country severely limits our discourse. If you’re not for something, you’re against it. End of story.
And so, because I think conservatism is fucking stupid, and would never entertain the idea of voting for a Republican, I’ve considered myself to be a liberal.
But the more I read and talk to people, whatever their views, the more I realize that I’m probably more radical than liberal. I have many examples of this, and will focus on different ones in future posts. For now I will stick with one, mainly because when I started writing about it, I got a little carried away, and decided that if I let this blog post get any longer than it already is, I wouldn’t be able to hold your attention.
So. The gay marriage issue.
Marriage has always made me feel uneasy for reasons I couldn’t quite pinpoint. From the time I was a child, I knew I didn’t want to get married. When I was really little (the age when your parents are your only role models), I seriously feared the day I’d have to find myself a husband and change my name. I thought then that that was because I just “wasn’t ready to grow up yet,” and I’d come to terms with it eventually.
But I never did. And realizing that I’m gay has not changed that.
So when the issue of gay marriage started hitting the mainstream media, I wasn’t super geeked about it, even though, as a lesbian and progressive, I was not about to speak out against the cause. Whenever someone would ask me about my involvement with it, and how it might affect me personally I’d just say, “I’ve never been able to picture myself getting married. But even if I wanted to, the law isn’t exactly on my side anyway.” And I left it at that.
But then the subject came up while I was talking about it with a friend. And she was able to put into words the uneasiness that had been gnawing at me for so long. She pointed out that we live in a monogamist culture that “normalizes coupling,” and told me that she thinks single people should have the same protections and tax breaks offered to married couples. It’s not truly equality otherwise.
And suddenly I understood the fear of marriage that I’d had as a child: Would I be punished if I chose not to pair off with someone? I was born a homebody who values her solitude. Even at a young age, I fantasized about the day when I could hole up in a tiny apartment with a cat and follow no one’s rules but my own.
Still afraid to voice my agreement with this argument against the institution of marriage (I have friends who are gay and married, and admire the emotional energy they put into making that happen), I started looking for affirmation elsewhere. And I found it in a pocket-sized anthology called Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage.
Its authors made some extremely compelling arguments, one of which is that gay marriage is the first “civil rights issue” to run against history (D’Emilio, 38).
D’Emilio points out that as time has progressed, we’ve become more accepting of living arrangements other than marriage. More couples cohabitate rather than marry. Single women with careers rather than husbands and children are more common than they used to be. Divorce is no longer considered to be a tragic taboo.
And yet the gay marriage movement assumes that if people pair off and marry, society will be more stable.
Even the President has said as much. And when Melissa Harris-Perry tweeted, “Sigh… the fatherhood thing is distressing for me President Obama. I know you don’t mean to say single moms cause gun violence, but…” she was met with such opposition that she had to devote a segment of her show to defending herself and her ideas. (Please click that link and watch the segment if you haven’t seen it yet; it’s one of the bravest things I have ever seen on television.)
Anyway, that’s what I mean about the ways in which our society limits discussion. If you’re not behind an idea 100%, you must be against it.
I think a huge part of this perpetuation is facebook. I get annoyed with people who merely click the “share” button on a graphic image with some kind of statement on it (common originators of such pages are Eliminate Homophobia on Facebook and George Takei). Graphics and statistics are helpful, yes. But how many words can fit on those little graphic squares? Expand your vocabulary. Expand your thinking. Post a thought from inside your own damn head.
So, the more I think about it, the more I realize that the gay rights movement is about assimilation. Marriage is just one example of that. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is another. Instead of fighting to take part in our military, why don’t we recognize how harmful the military is, and fight to end wars? Instead of “marriage equality,” fight for a single-payer health care system, so that all people will benefit from the movement, rather than just those who decide to get married (and, more specifically, those who happen to be marrying someone with health care coverage).
With this post, I acknowledge that I’m not really saying anything new so much as chiming in to say that I agree with those who have brought these things to my attention. I’ve talked to a lot of these people one on one, and I have to thank them, so much, for trusting me with their thoughts, opinions, and feelings. I know that they get shot down a lot, and that people refuse to listen to them– and that keeps them quiet much more often than they’d like to or deserve to be. As someone who has a hard time voicing my opinion, I very much admire people who are willing to speak up about things they care about, even if only in one on one conversations.
And so my contribution to what they have given me is to widen that discussion to a broader audience.