I think you pretty neatly summed it up there, Daran. Although it can easily be argued that the institution of marriage is deeply flawed, that’s really not the issue here. Eating McDonalds food is bad for you, but if they banned gays (or blacks, or women, or fill-in-the-blank) from eating at McDonalds we’d all have something to say about it, right? This isn’t about isn’t whether marriage is good or bad, it’s about equality.
This comment comes from Damien, and is part of a discussion on Ampersand’s blog about gay-marriage equality. It manages to make explicit my reservations about a common–and wholly reasonable–argument against gay marriage, or rather, fighting for gay marriage.
That argument goes like this: Marriage is not an institution worth supporting. It has its roots in a deeply sexist tradition that made women property and men property-holders. Even if marriage has managed, or can manage, to supercede historical and current sexism, privileging marriage and even couplehood over other intimate human relationships is bigotry. When queers opt into marriage, they opt into all the poisonous baggage that goes with it.
Okay. But is this any of my business? I’ve heard the same arguments made about nuclear families (sometimes) and motherhood (all the time), but the legislative battles for those rights consider autonomy to be paramount. We recognize any violation of that autonomy in the name of social policy to be abusive. No one in progressive circles is saying that it’s bad for gay couples to adopt children because their arrangement would ape heterosexual parenting, and no one’s saying that it’s bad for partnered lesbians (or mothers without partners, or women in polyamorous relationships) to become mothers because their kind of motherhood would be affected by the sexist and heterosexist culture they were born into. No one’s saying that two gay lovers opting for couplehood-plus-progeny demeans queerer arrangements. Laws against queer people adopting and fostering children are evil, full stop, and must be fought.
I do frequently see this argument about transition in its various forms. Passing, legal transition, hormones, surgery (surgery Down There is always way worse than merely having tits lopped off or sewn on, for some reason), exhibiting arguably traditional behavioral cues, identifying as “straight” rather than “queer,” identifying as “male” or “female” rather than some category between or beyond the two, refusing to identify as transgender or transsexual, showing zero interest in reliving or discussing a painful period in one’s life, distancing oneself from queer communities, and so on. Oh, and getting married. We’re ruining it for everyone.
I’ll just go on record right here as saying that I think it’s wonderful that transpeople are starting to have choices about all of those things. Some of mine are non-traditional. I cannot imagine having to want, for example, to undergo genital surgery in order to receive any treatment at all. (Of course, I currently live in and calmly live with a system that forces me to undergo surgery in order to obtain a passport I can use.) That was status quo up until very recently. In some places, the gender-clinic model still rules. “Genuine transsexual” is still in operation.
But it would be just as wrong–and, inevitably, just as injurious–to put transpeople on a scale from progressive to counterproductive, empowered to duped, with me somewhere in the middle (do I dare claim a six?), Christine Jorgensen way down near zero, and, well, no one gets a ten. That’s sort of the problem, isn’t it? You can’t win. Once the legitimacy of your choice is subjected to a standard that has nothing to do with you, you cease to be of equal value. Once you’ve accepted the idea that your perspective can’t possibly take precedence, you’ve given up any claim to insight into your own life.
That’s exactly what happens. Ftms who see themselves as guys, who pass, who aren’t out to their coworkers, who feel alienated from queer space, who want to be dads and husbands, are seen as bad trannies. Any decision to not be trans-identified and out has to be a matter of survival, not personal comfort. Even a few paragraphs ago, you see what I did there? That bit about the bad old days (c. the ER pilot)? That’s boilerplate. “I like boys and I’m not getting The Surgery,” is reflexive at this point. I’ve been repeating it more often as I’ve started to pass, transition legally and physically, and exhibit more traditionally male behavioral cues.
(Here’s where the bit goes about how we mustn’t forget that there’s a great deal of prejudice against and marginalization of genderqueer and gendervariant people, and that heterosexism and transphobia exists in the trans community, too. Consider yourself mollified.)
The reason we all transition–so that we can stop being miserable in a thousand different ways, generally speaking–disappears from the discussion. GRS is shameful–look at how Amp compared it (not top surgery, though) to bariatric surgery, and applauded sinking numbers that probably have as much to do with the enormous always-out-of-pocket expense than with a lack of desire for surgery. It’s forgivable, but it’s too bad. After the revolution, we will all love our little guys just the way they are. I do it, too. I use my decision, which is made for no reason other than personal comfort, to prove that I deserve to be included among progressives. I end up lying about transsexuality in order to sell it to people who are supposed to be my allies; my ftm brethren are thrown under the bus for being exactly as revolutionary as I am. And then entirely well-meaning people like Amp start thinking that transsexuals themselves want GRS to be morally mandated out of existence.
The same thing seems to apply to gay marriage. When I argue with gay marriage opponents, I frequently make the point that allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry would not create gay marriage, merely recognize it. Homos have been getting hitched since same-sex love has existed. Never mind oppressive, it’s senseless for the law to look at two men who have been partnered for a quarter-century and see a couple of bachelors. It’s also ludicrous to act as though ignoring those men will make them love each other less, or turn them into good husbands for anyone else. The threat of death didn’t accomplish that.
This argument would seem to go in the other direction. The gays want to get married. A lot of them–us, I should say–want the ring and are perfectly happy to take the baggage that comes with it. They either don’t agree that marriage is esentially patriarchal/misogynist/heterosexist/assimilationist, or they don’t care.
Is it my business to complain? Or is it my responsibility to address this massive inequality and let them sort it out on their own terms?