Whenever I am asked if my boifriend and I are married, especially in LGBTQ space, I feel unwelcome pressure to define my relationship so that the asker of the question can translate my answer into dominant culture’s terms.
This is the same pressure I have felt around gender. All of the questions about anatomy and my experience can feel like an assessment of which pre-existing “knowable” box to put me in. This is especially true for my boifriend and our relationship to one another. His genderqueer prancy femme boi self cannot be neatly summed up in dominant culture’s language without being dulled in the translation.
What we are to each other does not play by the binary rules the language of marriage requires. How we love and live cannot neatly fit into the “degree of commitment hierarchy” that the State’s definition of marriage requires.
I am disappointed in our movement’s quest for marriage although I deeply honor the very real need for its legal protections.
I don’t want to squeeze myself into marriage’s small world. I want to queer the notion of family. To subvert the paradigm that DNA and the State determine where and in what quantities I find love, passion, and solidarity. I want to grab hold of your linear spectrums of gender and sexuality—to twist and stretch them in the forge of my hands into the waves and knots of circumstance and happenstance that hold the wonder of the unimaginable yet undeniably real beauty I see in queer family.
I want any child I may raise to be surrounded by loving adults and peers. A circle of protection that does not look to the State for validation of that love and connection. I want that circle to feel a stake in my child’s well-being that is not tethered to the system’s logic of legal standing. I want my child to be able to turn in a wide circle and see loving adult after loving adult, all of whom can claim to be family based on the love they have offered rather than solely the genetic material shared.
I want to model abundance when it comes to love. By its very nature, the queering of family says that I can spread love and deep connection without the well running dry. It defies the caution to hoard love and belonging in small spaces for fear that it will escape and never return.
To me, marriage will never be a tool that will ever dismantle oppression. “Equality” comes when all people have equal access to quality health care, housing, education, employment, agency over their bodies, and respect for their identities and choices. Marriage should not be the central thing that gets me any of that.
Yet, like I’ve said before, my deep need to not define myself and our relationship in terms of dominant culture’s understanding of marriage is so much more than a political statement, so much more than a stance that resists the upholding of marriage as the highest ideal in the struggle for rights.
It’s about our authenticity. It’s about our ability to be our full true selves, and for our relationship to reflect that brilliance. The marriage box depends on other boxes, binary boxes we don’t fit, boxes we can’t translate our relationship into. For people who are cisgender men and women, for people who are monosexual, only attracted to one gender, the boxes generally fit. But for us they don’t. The story goes, if we are married, then suddenly we are knowable. We are boxed in a recognizable way. According to boxes, your ID says M and mine says F and within the marriage box that makes us male and female and a heterosexual couple. Within the marriage box we have attained a major goal of normative life and we will now buy a house and have a child and be a recognizable mainstream version of “family.”
But that story does violence to who we actually are. We are a queer family. We are queering family. I hope to be a parent but I will never be a mother. I commit myself to you for longer than we both shall live but that does not mean sequestering my love for you and limiting the love that we can each have for other people. Our family is not just the two of us (and any kids we have, furry, feathered, or peach fuzz)—our family is and will always be chosen and quilted and knit tightly together, far reaching and deep.
“Married” is thus a word that I can’t shake from how it is defined by dominant culture. It’s a word that will never speak to our experience. We are a family. We are queering family.
As you know, I wrote the above piece after being asked if you and I were married. This happens often, when someone notices our rings, but this time it was asked in LGBTQ space, by someone who self-identifies as part of the LGBTQ world. My answer was met with a bit of a paternalistic “I had that view of marriage once….” When I sat with it in stillness later I could feel what I longed for but have never been asked. I long to be asked open-ended questions that invite my full self forward rather than trying to squeeze through the tiny space usually opened up by “are you married?”
In an environment in which I often try to take refuge from heteronormative assumptions, it was particularly disheartening. How would the experience change for many of us if, upon seeing rings, the resulting question was, “Those rings are beautiful. Can you tell me their story?”
But that is the essence of everything, isn’t it? What would the world look like if we all simply asked open-ended questions and met the answers with an open heart.