The Overwhelming Heteronormativity Of ‘Born This Way’


You’ve heard the phrase ‘born this way’. We all have. Even before Gaga turned it into an earworm that has been rattling around my brain for every single sentence of this post, it’s been a way that people explain queerness. And, for many of us, it’s something that makes sense in our own lives. We point to telltale signs in our childhoods that there was always something different about us. When people call us perverts and abominations, we respond by assuring them that no, this is who we are, and that this is how we were born.

I despise it. And I’d like to explain why. This is going to take a little work, though- we’ll be talking about heteronormativity, gender, and even the dreaded patriarchy along the way. So make yourself a nice big mug of something, because we’re going to start right at the heart of it all- wondering why on earth homophobes are.

Why on earth would anyone hate queer people?

It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Here we all are, doing our thing in a world that has plenty real threats against us, and people pick who someone loves or what gender they are as reasons to despise them. On face value, it doesn’t make any sense. Queer people mainly go about our days like everyone else does, by-and-large minding our own business. Our existence doesn’t harm anyone. We don’t prevent anyone else from living their lives as they choose. Generally, we just want the same right to choose our own destinies and to have our families and identities respected the same way everyone else’s is.

On face value, it seems bizarre that that would be a big deal.

Why do people hate us so much, then? It’s easy to say “religion” or “ignorance”, but those answers don’t really tell us anything. While it’s true that some religions have taboos against entirely harmless things, it’s unusual to find something harmless that the majority will forbid. When you do, though? It’s often a sign that there is a threat lurking just below the surface. Something that is dangerous in ways that are not always obvious.

Reproductive rights aren’t dangerous unless you have a vested interest in controlling women. Diversity in gender and sexualities isn’t dangerous, either- unless, that is, you have a vested interest in maintaining a distinctly binary and patriarchal gender system. Which, if you’re given power by that system? You do.

We live in profoundly patriarchal (and kyriarchal) societies. It’s not just that men hold most positions of power and the vast majority of wealth in the world. It’s that the positions men tend to hold and the ways that men tend to do things are more valued themselves. And it is, of course, that we divide what people should do and how they should do it on binary gendered lines. Not necessarily on purpose, by the way. Patriarchy isn’t a shady cabal of men meeting in secret in darkened rooms to plot against equality. It doesn’t have to have leaders. It doesn’t even have to be something that people are obviously or consciously aware of. It’s just people doing what they do, groups working to their own advantage, and power entrenching itself in obvious and subtle ways over the decades.

Yes, by the way, I am going to get back to queer people. Trust me- it’s all connected, but for the moment we’ll have to talk a little more about gender.

Because the only way that this kind of large-scale social control and organisation can continue, of course, is if people buy into it. We need to feel like it’s a good thing. We need it to feel natural, like there’s an essential good to men doing one kind of work (largely paid and visible) and women doing other kinds of work, which are more likely to be unpaid and invisible. It has to satisfy us. We need to feel like we live in a world where this is not just inevitable, but preferable. Like it’s the only truly natural way to be. And if you’re a human, which I am almost certain that you are, then one of the ways you make sense of the world is through narrative. It’s through narrative that we create and pass on our ideas about what is good, what is bad, and what our happy ever after looks like.

When it comes to gender? We have narratives in spades. Think of family homes- warm, welcoming spaces filled with nurturing mothers, grannies and aunties. Think of good, decent men who work all day to provide for the families they love, before coming home to spend time with the kids they dote on. Think of the love they all have for each other and the ways they take care of each other.

I know you can, because we all can. We’ve all lived our lives in a world saturated with these stories. And stories.. stories get under your skin. Stories are how we make sense of the world.

Queerness as threat

These stories aren’t just about the family. They are situated in the family, but they’re about far bigger things. They’re about how we define ourselves as men and women, boys and girls. They’re tied both to aspects of our core identity, and to some of the largest-scale social divisions we have. Three and a half billion people on one side, three and a half billion on the other. And the thing that divides one 3.5 billion from the other? Is the same story that we tell them will keep them safe, loved and happy in their closest and most intimate relationships. It’s the story that we are all men or women, and that men and women are deeply, essentially distinct groups of people. It’s the story that, for all our differences, there is one thing that is an essential maleness, and another that is an essential femaleness, and that the complementarity between these differences is what brings us together.

In a world where the family- that space where we create our homes, our refuge from the world, where we love and nurture each other- is based on the idea that men and women are essentially different beings, queerness is scary. If two men, two women, or an entirely different configuration of people can come together and create a family? If little girls can grow up to be men, little boys to be women, and anyone to be neither men nor women? We are left without an anchor for some of our most treasured truths. We are left afraid in a world that makes even less sense than we thought it might.

People aren’t scared of queerness because there’s anything immediately wrong with one woman loving another, or with some people’s bodies being configured differently to others. They’re scared of queerness- and they lash out at us- because we challenge one of the biggest narratives our society has, one that stretches from large-scale division to the intimacy we share with people we love to our very sense of ourselves.

And for many of us? We are left without one of the few things that gives us some semblance (or a great deal) of power and authority.

By now, there’s likely no going back. Many of us queer people are no longer willing to hide. We have families and friends who love and support us. Our existence can’t be denied. The evidence that we are as capable as anyone of having meaningful lives and creating nurturing families continues to grow. To talk directly about how we challenge gendered narratives is to admit that those are stories that might themselves be challenged.

And so- without deliberate effort, but because it makes sense to us and helps us to feel safe- an overwhelming narrative arises. Instead of facing our stories head-on and challenging the truths they claim, we adapt them. Just a little bit, on the edges. We fit queerness into the cracks of our stories, moulding it to keep us feeling safe.

We say that we were born this way.

Born This Way as neutraliser

Before I go on, I want to make a point very clear. I am not stating for a second that everyone’s orientation or identity is chosen, malleable or fluid. From many LGBT people’s childhood stories to the overwhelming failure of ex-gay ‘therapy’ to do anything other than hurt the people it claims to help, it’s clear that sexuality is, for many people, something that revolves closely around a fixed point.

For others, though, it’s not. Sexual and gender expressions are gloriously diverse. Even if we’re born with particular inclinations, the choices that we make after those define us as much as that which we are born with. Additionally? Something that could be fixed for one person may be chosen for another.

I hope you’ll forgive me for mentioning myself for a moment- I live in my own mind, so I can’t speak for anyone else. I grew up with the potential to be attracted to people of a variety of genders. I chose to come out, to pursue non-hetero relationships with the people I felt drawn to. I learned about different ways of doing relationships. Currently, I choose to pursue nonmonogamous relationships, if I pursue romantic relationships at all, because they fit well with the values I’ve developed, the way I prefer to build family and community- and, if I’m honest, because I happened to meet some wonderful poly people along the way.

I’m willing to bet that, whatever your own orientation and preferred relationship configuration(s), you have similar stories. You were born or grew up with a certain innate potential. Then you met some people, learned some things, discovered different ways of doing relationships, and made some choices about what kind of things suit you. Some of these things are dealbreakers. Some are open to negotiation. And there is, over the decades of your life, change between which category a particular thing fits into.

In short? We have potential. We make choices. We change. We grow. Many of us have the potential to be different to what we are- and maybe someday we will. Or we won’t. Life is complicated, and it sends us in unexpected directions sometimes.

The idea of ‘born this way’ ignores all of that. ‘Born this way’ introduces the idea that we have no choice in who we are, who we love, and what we do.

On one hand, it encourages a horrible narrative in supporting equality- the idea that we simply can’t help who we are. Who, it asks, would ever choose such a terrible fate as to be queer? If we could be cishet we would, right? ‘Born this way’ doesn’t challenge heteronormative ideals of the superiority of particular relationship forms. It doesn’t celebrate anything about queerness- not the relationships we have, the cultures and families we create, and the things we have to teach cishet society. Instead, it asks for ‘normal’ people’s pity. Don’t be mean to us. We can’t help it. We were born this way.

That’s not the only way, though, in which the ‘born this way’ narrative- and it is a narrative, which emphasises certain aspects of queer experience while ignoring and erasing others- bolsters heteronormativity. You see, ‘born this way’ also reinforces the separation between straightness and queerness. If we are ‘born this way’, than, by extension, straight people are not. If we are born this way, then we are, and are destined to always remain, different from the norm. An exception, distinctly separate from the rule, made so by an accident of birth. If we are born this way, we pose no threat or challenge to gender norms or heteronormativity- we’re nothing more than abberations. A minority who will always stay that way, and always be slightly apart.

I Hope Their Kid Is Gay


Have you seen the latest hoax this week? Several articles- all copying and pasting the same thing, of course- claiming that Robert Mugabe‘s son has come out as gay. In case you’ve been under a rock for the last few decades, Mugabe has been either Prime Minister or President of Zimbabwe for longer than I’ve been alive. And I’ve got more than five or six grey hairs. As with most people who’ve been executive heads of states for thirty-odd years, his career hasn’t exactly been a wonderful golden age of prosperity and safeguarding of human rights. I’m no expert in Zimbabwean politics, though, so let’s just stick with one point: Mugabe is a virulent homophobe whose government has brought in laws making it illegal for two people of the same sex to as much as hold hands, and who has described LGBT people as “worse than dogs and pigs”.

He’s probably not volunteering to set up a local chapter of PFLAG, y’know?

Of course, the story isn’t real- Robert Mugabe doesn’t have a son called Chipape, never mind a gay one. But it did spread quickly before (and, it seems, even after) the inevitable 5-minute debunking. That’s not a surprise- it’s exactly the kind of story that people like to hear. Because LGBT people show up in all kinds of families, it’s never too much to hope that well-known homophobes will have to face up to people they love dearly coming out. And we all know that nothing crumbles homophobia to dust quite like knowing, loving and understanding someone who’s queer. Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone like Mugabe was forced to come to terms with having a queer son or daughter? Couldn’t it change everything? Wouldn’t it be the perfect combination of redemption narrative and schadenfreude?

Not really. No.

Where is your empathy?

Seriously. If that narrative sounded glorious to you, where is your empathy? I ask this in a very literal sense. Who have you empathy with?

It seems to me like the people being noticed here are you and the homophobic parent. The homophobic parent gets their comeuppance. With any luck, they learn a valuable lesson about acceptance and (eventually) come to love and accept their gay son or daughter, after getting the shock of their lives. You get to sit back and enjoy watching your enemy squirm, before putting on your most benevolent smile and welcoming them over to our side. Everyone has a great time.

Except for the kid.

You see, in this story you forget about that kid. The one who had to grow up knowing that their parents- the people who are supposed to love you most unconditionally- despise a basic part of who they are.

In the best-case scenario, it turns out okay in the end. Before that, though? The best case scenario involves that child growing up learning that anything other than cisgender heterosexuality is an abomination. It involves the dawning realisation on the part of that kid that they are the abomination everyone hates so much. Years of trying desperately to change themselves. Years of trying to hide. Years of fear of losing everyone that they love. Of knowing deep down, every single moment, that they have to pretend to be someone they’re not.

In the best-case scenario, this child- who has been unknowingly brutalised their entire life- finds support and love somewhere. They find a place to stay and a community to accept them when their family rejects them. Over months or years, their family comes around and, eventually, things are okay. Mostly.

Okay, except for the pain inflicted on that innocent kid in ways that never truly goes away.

That’s the best-case scenario. I don’t think I can stomach the worst.

We are not your punchline. We are not your punishment.

I’m going to say that again. Queer people? We do not exist to provide punchlines in straight people’s stories. We do not exist to punish straight people for the error of their ways. Life is not a fairy tale, and we are not supporting characters in someone else’s morality play.

I don’t hope that Mugabe has a queer kid. I don’t hope that the WBCers do- although it’s highly unlikely that all of their kids will grow up cis and het. For their sakes, I hope that they do.

I don’t want queer kids to be born into families that hate them, so that they can do the work of converting their families to our cause. I want queer kids to be born and raised by families who love and cherish them for exactly who they are. I want the to grow up knowing that whatever the rest of the world will throw at them for being queer- and it will- they always have somewhere safe to come home to.

And if you don’t agree? Put yourself in that kid’s shoes. Then get back to me.

Stonewall messed up. Let’s fix it.


Stonewall have just released a new guide for parents who think their kids may be LGB. Called So you think your child is gay?, it’s chock-full of the same erasure of the right-hand-side of the LGBT acronym we’ve come to expect from Stonewall.

I’m not sure what I’m more angry about. Is it the fact that, a decade or so after the rest of us have moved on, Stonewall steadfastedly refuse to drag themselves into the late-20th century and update their acronym to LGBT? Or is it the fact that, despite grudgingly including the B, they insist on using the word ‘gay’ throughout this booklet, throwing in an “or lesbian” or an “or bisexual” just enough to remind the rest of us that they are veguely aware of our existence while still blithely ignoring any and all specific issues that LB people or our friends and families might have? It’s like intersectionality never happened. Then again, since intersectionality did happen, it’s perfectly okay to be angry about both kinds of erasure in distinct and special ways.

I want to do more than be angry, though. I think it’s time for the Ls, Bs, Ts, Qs and As among us to put our money where our great big loud mouths are. All LGBTQ kids and their families and friends deserve equal recognition of their needs, identities and the distinct issues that might come up for them.

I’d like to make an updated version of this booklet that’s inclusive of the rest of us. I’m even willing to give it to Stonewall- for free- to distribute, just as long as they let anyone else who wants to do the same.

But I can’t do this alone. I’m a big loudmouthed bi and queer activist. I can’t speak for trans* kids or ace kids or any of the rest of you. I can’t even speak for bi/pan guys and most genderqueer folks! But I know that you lot can.

Were you a kid or teen who came out, or wanted to come out, as something? Or a kid who didn’t know what the hell to come out as? Are or were you the parent of a kid who came out? Or the friend? What were the questions that you or your family/friends had?

Tell me! Either here in the comments or by email at considertheteacosy at gmail dot com, if you’re not comfortable sharing with everyone. Let’s fix Stonewall’s erasure and make sure that all LGBTQ kids and their families are heard.

Don’t Call Me Bisexual: another oldie


This was originally posted back in 2010. I came across it as I was looking for my old civil partnerships video, and figured I’d give it an airing. Enjoy!

 

Don’t call me bisexual.

Seriously, don’t. Call me bi, call me queer, you can even call me by my name if you really want to. But I don’t like being called bisexual.

I’m happy to be open about my orientation. As long as I’m in a relatively safe situation- nobody going to actually harm me- my preference is to be out. It prevents some misunderstandings and misconceptions, it’s an important part of my self and my history, and it’s good for people to know that they know someone who’s queer. Being out is also a very handy asshole filtration system, sparing hours to months of wasted time spent with people to turn out to be small minded bigots. Not to mention the fact that, if I happen to be interested in meeting someone or getting to know them a little better, having the orientation thing worked out as early as possible makes things run a lot smoother than they otherwise would. I recommend it to practically everyone, really I do.

Sexuality ≠ sex

One of the profoundly irritating things about being open about one’s orientation, as I’m sure some of you know all too well, is the assumption that coming out involves a revelation about one’s sex life. That if I come out I’ve shared something personal, even intimate, and that coming out opens a window to all sorts of juicy conversations and details.

It really doesn’t. Think about it this way: if you and I are strangers, and then we meet, it is likely that you’ll* assume that I’m straight. We live in a heteronormative society. Most people assume that most other people are straight. So we’ve met, and you have, consciously or unconsciously, assumed that I am only interested in sexual or romantic relationships with men.

If I tell you that I’m bi, you know less about what (who?) I do than you did before. You’ve lost the only point of information you thought you had. I tell you that I’m bi, then you know absolutely nothing about my sex life*. And that is just fine by me.

You see, I don’t want to talk about my sex life in public. I really don’t. Maybe someday I’ll change my mind about this one, but right now it would feel highly unpleasant, a violation of something very personal and important, which I want to keep between me and Relevant Others**. I like to keep my private life private.

Being ‘out’ doesn’t tell you about my personal life. It doesn’t tell you about who I am or am not involved with, it doesn’t tell you anything about my likes or dislikes. It doesn’t tell you anything about kinks and turn-ons. It doesn’t tell you anything about the kinds of relationships I like to be in. It doesn’t even tell you anything particularly meaningful about the type of people I’m attracted to. All it says anything about is that if you do find out about any of that stuff in the future, or even if I happen to mention someone I’m involved with, you can’t be guaranteed a ‘he’.

Language and homophobes

Have you ever noticed that whenever homophobes are talking about LGBT people, that can’t stop referring to us as ‘homosexuals’? You’d rarely hear an ‘LGBT people’, or even a ‘gay and lesbian’***. You might hear a ‘queer’, but you can bet it has nothing to do with queer theory. You might also have noticed that homophobic types tend to be rather preoccupied with queer people’s (feverishly) imagined sex lives. It’s always all ‘sodomy’ this and ‘lifestyle’ that.

This isn’t necessarily a coincidence. I read an article from the New York Times last week which touched on this topic. This article references a February CBS/New York Times news poll, where

half of the respondents were asked if they favored letting “gay men and lesbians” serve in the military (which is still more than 85 percent male), and the other half were asked if they favored letting “homosexuals” serve. Those who got the “homosexual” question favored it at a rate that was 11 percentage points lower than those who got the “gay men and lesbians” question.

Part of the difference may be that “homosexual” is a bigger, more clinical word freighted with a lot of historical baggage. But just as likely is that the inclusion of the root word “sex” still raises an aversive response to the idea of, how shall I say, the architectural issues between two men. It is the point at which support for basic human rights cleaves from endorsement of behavior.

This makes sense, if you think about it. Just like I don’t want everybody knowing details about my sex life, I don’t want to know the details of theirs. I’m quite profoundly lacking in attraction to the vast majority of people. While on a theoretical level I hope that everyone’s having a marvellous time with people who are having a marvellous time back at them, I really don’t want to know the details. If we don’t want to know about the sex lives of strangers- particularly strangers whose sex lives are personally unappealing to ourselves- then we are less likely to feel positively towards them if every time we refer to them, the word we use to do so is, quite literally, full of sex. I’d like to get away from that.

Would you like a stereotype?

All of this is, for me, closely related to prevailing stereotypes about those of us who are attracted to people of more than one gender. There’s the ones where you’re confused and can’t make up your mind, the ones where you’re flighty and immature. There’s the ones where you’ll sleep with anything that moves. The ones where you’re untrustworthy and bound to cheat on your partner with someone of another gender. Where you can’t be trusted.

A lot of this is about our sex lives- or, to be more specific, about the preconceptions that people have about our sex lives. It’s assumed (by some!) that any bi person in a relationship with another person will be tortured with desires and fantasies about people of another sex until we just can’t help ourselves. That, despite this, we don’t know our desires and that we’ll eventually settle down into one ‘side’ or the other. Even that our orientation as a whole can be determined from a quick glance at our most recent, or current, partner(s).

I know that no single word can completely eradicate biphobia and stereotyping. I also know that it is not my responsibility to single-handedly change the minds of every biphobe and homophobe out there- that’s up to them. And I know that I could be seen to be coming perilously close to blaming members of an oppressed group for the actions of oppressors. This is not what I mean to do. I do not blame anyone for choosing to identify themselves as ‘bisexual’. It’s a legitimate word, and identifying that way in no way absolves anyone from acting in a discriminatory way.

However, I do retain the right to want to make my life just that little bit more smoothly.

Back to me. Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

So say ‘bi’, if you like. It’s not ideal- it implies that I have two sexualities, for one thing, which is a bit bizarre. But it gets the point across, it’s a word everyone knows the meaning of, and it’s far less likely to get you thinking about my sex life. Or you can say ‘queer’. I like ‘queer’, but I’m well aware that it’s quite the loaded term for many people, so I prefer to use it only when I’m sure people will understand my meaning, and not find it offensive or triggering. Or you can say that I’m not too picky when it comes to gender****. I don’t mind, I’m not fussy. Just don’t call me bisexual.

 

*Bar the fact that I most certainly hope that you are assuming that it includes consenting adults.

**And whoever I happen to be talking to after a few margaritas. Random drunk people are relevant, right? Right?

***Not that I’d know anything about that. Nothing to do with me, them Gays And Lesbians. Entirely different category over here. Although I do have quite a similar lifestyle to many of my gay friends, so it is possible that all of us, straight people included, are Living A Homosexual Lifestyle.

****I am, actually. In my own way. But if you want to find out more about that, you’d best start making up the margaritas.

 

What do you think? Do you think that the 2010 version of me was on the mark with this one? How’d you feel about the oversexualisation of queer identities? If you’re someone who fancies people of more than one gender (high five!), how do you prefer to identify and why?

An oldie on civil partnerships


As you read this, I’m off learning how to drive bikes around Kildare for the day. If you’re in Kildare, you’ll be able to recognise me by the giant L plate on my jacket (classy!) and the look of sheer terror on my face every time my instructor makes me go past 40kph.

Since I’ve been talking about marriage a lot lately, and in recognition of the fact that the UK and France are both planning on bringing in equality while Ireland drags its feet and files its nails, here’s a video I made back when Ireland first brought in civil partnerships. You get to hear my thoughts on the matter AND see three-years-ago me. Bonus!

A Terribly Polite Homophobe


I had an argument on Monday. I really shouldn’t have, but I did anyway. In response to my post on feeling vulnerable, hurt and overwhelmed by homophobia, someone called @JamesMcAdams82 over on Twitter took it upon himself to castigate me for attempting to silence my opponents and to tell me over and over and over again that, while he really does wish the best for me and people like me, he feels that that does not involve equal rights under the law. Except, of course, that he refused to call it that.

I am sometimes amazed at the cognitive dissonance of homophobes. James claimed to respect my dignity and that of my relationships, acknowledged that there is in fact such a thing as innate sexual orientation*, and then said that marriage between two people of the same gender was impossible. By definition. Because.

There are a few things going on here. Before I go into them, though, I want to emphasise that all of this was in response to an article I wrote about feeling utterly overwhelmed and unable to deal with this kind of thing right now. And one of the last paragraphs of that very post was about how because of this I felt hesitant to even bring up the topic at the moment. And then I asked for advice and support and strategies in dealing with this from my readers. Who, by the way, were wonderful**.

I find it difficult to accept that a person sees nothing wrong in reading something like this and responding with more of precisely the kind of thing I just talked about being hurt by. No matter how polite a person is, that is incredibly callous. In fact, well..

Tone doesn’t fix intent

Throughout the conversation that followed, James spoke to me in what I am sure he felt to be even, reasonable and polite tones. He assured me that he sees me as an equal and that he is supportive of my right to dignity. He said that he simply cares about my well-being and that it is his opinion that that is best served by… well, he didn’t state directly. But he did state that marriage is by definition betwen a man and a woman here. So I guess his implication was that my (and your!) well-being is best served by only being allowed to marry a person of, as he put it, ‘the opposite gender’.

(Yes, by the way, people still use phrases like ‘the opposite gender’. Because they honestly believe that there are only two and that they are somehow opposite to each other. How.. quaint.)

I’m sure he thought that by being reasonable and polite, he could avoid offense and we could all be friendly. He was wrong.

If you tell me that I do not merit the same legal rights as you do, it does not matter in the slightest how softly you phrase it. It does not matter how friendly your tone is, how polite and how much you assure me that you are rather in favour of me as a person. You have still told me that you see me as fundamentally inferior to you. Even if you state that that is not what you mean at all. It is what your views mean. You don’t get to have those views and also have my courtesy, my affability, my friendliness or my reasonableness. Because there is a difference between you and me, and it is not simply our opinions. Your opinions directly harm me. You hurt me. You hurt people who I love.

The consequence of your opinions in my life is that I have to deal all the goddamn time with people and social structures that treat me as inferior or as a curiosity. The consequence of my opinions in your life is that I say some unpleasant words to you. It’s a tiny consequence. And it’s one you deserve.

My anger and my upset, by the way, do not invalidate my arguments. My anger and my upset are consequences of the harm that you cause me. Tone does not fix intent.

Let’s get to some of this person’s actual points, though, shall we?

You Can’t Marry Your Mother, Can You?

James’s major argument appeared to centre around the fact that we cannot marry everyone that we love, and that marriage by definition excludes close family members, for example. And, to him, people of the same gender. When I agreed with him that yes, marriage to one’s parent or sibling would be highly inappropriate even if everyone involved is a consenting adult, he seemed to think that I had proved his point.

Let’s talk about fruit. Because it seemed to me that because me and him had agreed that apples were, in fact, very different to oranges, it followed to him that the same was true of pears. To the same extent and in the same way. But, y’know, although pears are softer and a slightly different shape to apples, they’re pretty damn similar. They both have the same kind of peel, very similar flesh and their seeds and stems are in the same places. In fact, I’m pretty darn sure you can replace an apple with a pear in a hell of a lot of recipes***. They may not be completely identical in all respects, but they sure are the same kind of fruit.

Family relationships and romantic relationships are apples and oranges. They can both be some of the most deep, meaningful and committed relationships in a person’s life. I’m lucky enough to have a family that I love dearly. But the way I feel about my family members and the way I feel about people I love romantically? Could not be more different. Very. Very. Different. Apples and oranges.

I don’t know about you, but I take a lot longer hanging up the phone to Ladyfriend as I do with either of my parents. Every so often I come down with a case of mentionitis about Ladyfriend that I’ve never had about any of my cousins, no matter how close we are. My aunts and uncles don’t give me butterflies. I don’t have daydreams about Ikea trips with my family (nightmares, maybe). I don’t want to send them smooshy cards and letters. While I’m always delighted to hear from them, there is a particular kind of goofy grin that only an email or a text from someone I’m twitterpated about will elicit.

And, y’know, there are wonderful things about family relationships that I don’t get anywhere else. These are the people who’ve raised me, who have been constants in my life for as long as I and we have been alive.

Birth-family and romantic relationships can both be wonderful things. I cherish both dearly But they’re apples and oranges.

James, though, seemed to think that because a lot of people aren’t attracted to others regardless of gender, same- and different-gender relationships must be apples and oranges too. They’re not. At the very most, they’re apples and pears- some are squishier than others and they’re sometimes different shapes (but sometimes not and there’s a ton of variety), but they all have the very same kind of peel and flesh and seeds and stems. I’ve been in love with people of all sorts of different genders. It’s never felt all that different.

I can’t, and shouldn’t, be able to marry my mother or uncle or cousin. And that is utterly irrelevant to equal marriage.

But Everyone Does Have The Same Right

I pressed him about how he could simultaneously claim to be in favour of equality and against the right of same-gender couples to marry. His answer was firstly that marriage is, by definition, a relationship between one man and one woman. And that everyone does have the same right- to marry a partner of the opposite (ugh, again with the ‘opposite’…) sex.

It’s funny, really, when you think about it. That people who claim to defend marriage would reduce it to such crassness.

You see, I think that marriage is about a lot of things. It can be about two people deciding to commit to each other for the rest of their lives, and to make each other their family. It can be about people acknowledging and celebrating the love they share. It can be about the public, community declaration of commitment and of support. For some people it’s more practical- it’s about shared health insurance, green cards, tax credits, hospital visitations and shared parental rights and responsibilities. For some it’s about the dignity of being able to stand up and say that, yes, that person is their husband/wife. I’m sure it’s about a hell of a lot more things as well. I’ve never been married, but I gather it’s one hell of a big deal.

What I’ve never thought marriage was or should be about, though, was genitals of a particular configuration coming into contact in specific ways. Which is, at the end of the day, the only thing that differs by necessity between romantic relationships depending on the gender/sex of the people involved****. Or at least, depending on what body shapes they have.

Of all the things that marriage can be defined as, possibly the least relevant of all is.. body shapes and letters on documentation. Those things say nothing about a relationship. And marriage is, above all other things, about relationships.

It’s also kind of funny that a person who wishes to ‘defend’ marriage would do so by not only prioritising body shape and/or letters on documents over all other factors, but by specifically dismissing all of the others. Which is precisely what he did when he said that everyone had the same right to marry a person of the opposite sex.

You see, if we all have the right to marry only a person of the opposite sex, then love and committment are merely incidental. Marriage isn’t about sharing your life with someone, about making them legally and socially family to you, of sticking with them through thick and thin and loving them for your whole damn life. It’s about- you know, I don’t know what the hell it’s about, in that case, because defining an institution of such importance by the presence or absence of penis-in-vagina sex is so utterly crass as to be profoundly insulting to every happily married couple of any orientation- including straight- in the world.

And that is true no matter how nicely you phrase it.

*which is, well, obviously a bit more complicated than that, but…
** Thank you.
*** Which reminds me that I was planning to cook some crumbles this week. Ah, crumble. You delightful dessert and custard-vehicle, you.
**** And of course, even that is a hell of a lot more complicated than he gives it credit for, since neither sex nor gender are binary and they are not necessarily related at all.

When I Can’t Argue Inequality: Homophobia and Vulnerability


I’m an activist. I’m outspoken about my opinions and willing to argue them. I put my views out here on the internet on a regular basis, knowing that at any point anyone could see what I have to say and respond. I do it because I love to discuss, share and persuade. I love to communicate and write and find common ground amidst all of our differences. It’s interesting. It keeps me on my toes and learning every day.

I discovered something today, though.

Geoff’s Shorts posted the other day about about his support for marriage equality. He’s been getting a lot of comments and, as us bloggers are wont to do, popped a message around a few of us asking us to take a look and contribute to the conversation. Since I’m a great big badass queer activist, I figured I’d take a look.

I couldn’t.

That doesn’t happen very often. You can’t hang out around social justice bits of the internet very long without developing a thick skin. And I’d thought that when it came to homophobia, I’d calloused up a long time ago.

I hadn’t. I haven’t.

I started reading comments detailing calm, friendly arguments against marriage equality. Everyone on both sides discussing things nice and rationally. That is, as rationally as you can get when one of the arguments is inherently irrational. I made it about three or four comments in. Then I had to stop.

Maybe callouses come and go. Maybe you need to get them periodically toughened-up. Maybe it’s just that I’m a few days out of a wonderful week with Ladyfriend, feeling a bubbling kind of besotted and missing her badly. Maybe it’s hard because homophobia doesn’t just attack our selves. It attacks our deepest and most intimate relationships. It hits us right where our hearts are, right down where we make ourselves the most vulnerable. Right there in the giddy longing of crushes and sweet joy of love, where we can’t help but feel every damn thing because that’s what love is like. It’s where we are at our most tender. And that’s a wonderful thing.

It’s funny, though. When I hear yet another bishop yammering on about openness to life and fundamental disorderedness, I roll my eyes and continue on. This week or so as they’ve been claiming that people can’t marry someone of the same gender because we can’t consummate our relationships? I giggle. And then I offer to send them some handy diagrams. The WBC picketing yet again? Eh, whatever. But ordinary, thoughtful, well-spoken people detailing why they think that the love I have for some people is inherently inferior than the love I have for others? That one hits me where I live. Y’know how words can sometimes feel like a real punch? How they can stop you in your tracks, leave you dizzy and disoriented and vaguely ill? Yeah. That.

It’s funny, because feminist issues rarely hit me in the same way, although they have a similar potential to mess up my life. I can talk about reproductive rights and workplace inequality and abuse and all of it. Not always calmly, but the worst I’ll get is angry.

I guess that attacking our relationships has always been a way to get to people. Not just queers, of course. All of us. Isn’t jealousy often just a response to feeling like our relationships are threatened? And jealousy can feel overwhelming physical. Primal. Like the deep desire we often have to protect our families and the people in them. You mess with my family, you mess with me. It’s the same thing, I think.

It worries me. I want to talk about the things that are important to me. Love matters to me. I have so many conversations I’d like to have here, not just about queerness or polyness but about everything around those things- how we make relationships, what they mean to us, how we create and live them and what it means to be purposeful and considered in the kinds of relationships we have. And I know that in having those conversations I’m opening up one hell of a vulnerable place.

What do you think? Do you know what I’m getting at here? Do you feel the same, or is there an issue that gets to you in a similar way, to the extent that you have to be careful when and how you can engage with people on it? If it’s something that is close to your activist heart, how do you protect yourself?