There aren’t many queer issues I’m opposed to, because I firmly believe in the larger good even if I don’t like the individual actions. Back in 2005, I was knocking on strangers’ doors in support of LD 1196, the law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, even though I suffer from social anxiety strong enough to paralyze a moderately sized moose. I march in Pride parades and attend festivals even though I despise their consumerist focus.
I don’t even oppose events I don’t support, like that Frostbite thing last year (which is making a return this year, in case you can’t think of anything else to do with your money). It wasn’t my cup of herbal tea, but I wouldn’t stop anyone who wanted to attend.
Nevertheless, I’m starting to get a little pissed off about gay marriage.
It’s not just that I’m opposed to marriage in general — I think it’s a patriarchal, capitalistic institution that doesn’t match up with the way most people conduct their relationships. It’s not that the campaign has sucked up a lot of the funding and attention of organizations that would otherwise be working on other queer issues. And it’s not that the campaign has been using the euphemism “full equality,” despite the fact it will do nothing to help trans people, or protect my butch friends in changing rooms, or provide programming for youth, or fund police investigations of hate crimes.
The people who will benefit most from “full equality” are middle- and upper-class monogamous couples. My sense is that the marriage issue got chosen to be the focus on a national level because it’s potentially winnable — gay and lesbian people can be mainstreamed to the point that the culture at large doesn’t see them as a threat — and because the young gay activists have grown up and fallen in love and gone management and had kids. They want to get married, though not necessarily because it’s in the best interest of the larger community.
These are all just differences of opinion — people taking a different strategic route than I would be taking toward queer civil rights, but a route just the same.
No, the thing that’s souring my soy milk is that my desire for discussion of these points is considered a move toward the destruction of the movement.
It’s true that dissent can drive movements apart (ask the second-wave feminists and the Republicans). But the way to avoid that — the way to stand unified — is to really hear what the dissent is about, not ignore it or minimize it.
When I say “marriage doesn’t benefit everyone,” what I mean is, I don’t trust you to share your power with me. Marriage might actually benefit everyone if people with privilege used it to help those without, but I don’t believe for a second that will happen, because it so rarely does.
And when I say “it’s a narrow vision,” what I mean is, Many of the same benefits could be attained if we got universal healthcare, humane immigration laws, and enforced a separation of church and state.
If and when marriage comes up for vote, I will vote for it; who am I to stomp on people’s dreams, derail their desires? But I will keep trying to have conversations about this, because encouraging conversation is not a counter-movement — at least not for me. It’s part of the movement, and an essential one.
In the meantime, I’m working for the other issues I think are important. I’m not trying to derail the movement (honest!), just to bring some other voices to the table. There is a way to go forward with this movement that considers the needs of everyone and makes a plan to act on those needs. Marriage alone isn’t it.
Jen Hodsdon has finally pulled herself out of the holiday undertow, and is ready for some beach time.