Friday, May 18, 2012

Set it Off: On Obama, Marriage, and Visibility

It's been about a week or so since President Obama declared his support for same sex marriage. And even though I haven't wanted to necessarily weigh in on this conversation, I have been asked, several times, what I think about it at the same time that I have been trying to reconcile what was a stunning three days. Here's what happened: North Carolina passed the hateful Amendment One, President Obama comes out (to Robin Roberts, who I have a major morning anchor crush on) in support of same sex marriage; Queen Latifah came out. Or not. John Travolta was accused of sexually harassing three male masseuses. And, three white women were featured breastfeeding their a little past toddler age children in and on Time magazine.

So there, I'm in it.

And here's what I think: I applaud Obama for coming out in support of same sex marriage the day after many voters in North Carolina decided that marriage was the only way that heterosexual couples--because queers don't count--should relate to one another. I think that was a smart, ally-like stance. However, as others have pointed out, his stance won't change my life any. And, here's the thing, I. don't. care.

And, I'm married.

You know, for all intents and purposes. And Joan and I plan on being parents together. I understand the heteronormativity that those last statements exude. And I feel it creeping into the queer community that I adore: most of our friends have had a wedding ceremony and some are legally married and almost all of them have children. I get it and I struggle with it.  Lesbians have long committed to their partners, adopted and/or had children, and built amazing community families outside of the political context we are currently steeped in.

And I long for those times. This may not sound like where this post should be headed, but I refuse to fight for same sex marriage. This is not what we should be fighting for and this is not what I want--federal recognition that I have entered into a legal union that was based on exchanging women as property and that allowed husbands to rape their wives until, you know, the 1980s in this country.

Here's what I,  as a queer Black feminist do want: I want to be safe, physically. Will marriage ensure that I and my transgender, queer, lesbian and gay family won't be physically attacked or killed for walking down the street? Because that's what I need. When the majority of my workplace is queer and out and students still willingly tell some of us that they think that "gay things" are disgusting and they don't want to hear it anymore or write "fag" on professor evaluations and we have to take the time to address it as a department. Will same sex marriage make that disappear?

Also, a couple of weeks ago, Joan and I took a quick trip to the Midwest (Michigan) for her godson/nephew's first communion. We spent four days together with Joan's family in the Northern part of the state. A lot of it was fine, I really like Joan's family and they totally dig me, so it's a win win. And, yes, even the Catholic church with the Crocs-wearing Bishop felt fairly accepting of us, you know, when we made eye contact with folks and recognized where we were.  But, outside of that, we felt regularly threatened. And I don't mean threatened because each of us have a solid dose of internalized homophobia and heterosexism that lingers and we were with her overwhelmingly straight and lovely family, but I mean really threatened. Like: keep walking and get the f*ck out of here kind of threatened. See, my boo is what one might typically call "butch" (<3). Maybe tomboy butch, but not a traditionally feminine woman, in any case (kind of like Cleo in Set it Off--I'm getting to it) And, apparently, that doesn't sit well with Michigan men--or many men inside and outside of our rainbow bubble known as the Bay Area. And her presentation, coupled with the fact that we are two women of different races hanging out together, sets people off. I implied Set It Off twice in this post <3.

Because we were celebrating our one year wedding anniversary, we spent a night away from her family in a B&B on the Lake. And this is where it became clear that we weren't in Maxwell Park anymore. There were three straight couples staying there and, not one, but all three men stared her down as she went to get her breakfast. And they weren't just noting her Michigan State (vs. Michigan) sweatshirt. It was more of an "the f*ck? keep walking." The women didn't look at her that way, I watched. I didn't get those kinds of stares and I don't. But I'm on the ready when I see it. I'm not going to instigate a fight, but I'm not a "turn the other cheek" kind of person. You mess with me or my people and it's on. I'll kick my heels off--er, Campers--and fight back.  Like Cece. Will same sex marriage protect us against those stares, those feelings, that stance? Unless it will, I don't care. I'm not gonna fight for it. It also feels especially hard to fight for, when it feels incredibly white, particularly when it is compared to interracial marriage and civil rights--actually calling it the new civil rights movement. It's not the same thing. And, just a reminder, you deny my existence every. single. time. you make that claim (there are two smart and more nuanced statements over at CFC).

And it also feels incredibly normalizing when we are obsessed with visibility equaling verbal utterance of the words, "I am gay" (at the same time that we collectively imply that John Travolta is a molester and a closeted gay man). What happened to fantasy? And queer readings of folks? I mean, really, does it matter if Queen Latifah is gay when she can do this:

See? Doesn't that make you happy? Because every time I see it...

And when the popular discourse on motherhood is still based in and on young, white, and feminine bodies (For a minute, swap out the covergirl for a poor or young Black, Latina, or Native woman; the conversation, the headline, the debate would be different), how do our proclamations of our love and families being just the same change the structural inequalities that young, of color, and/or queer mothers face?

Until we can answer and address those questions fully, with real answers in a conversation that addresses the complexities of straight and queer lives, I'm not interested in the question.


silk_noir said...

This is strong, and wonderful, and very thoughtprovoking.

Nikki B. said...


See, on the one hand, I find that same-sex marriage is important not because it's marriage, but because of the greater context. That allowing same-sex couples to enter into the "norm" means that more people find them normal, and part of our cultural landscape. If that happens, we should be less targeted - right?

On the other hand - what you say here. Are we "normalizing" other people so we can fold them right on in to the gender binary, the heteronormativity? I mean, it's basically "THIS is the 'acceptable' form of gay relationships - conformation to our previous standards that do not include anyone beyond THIS KIND of gay person (like the "Modern Family" type that you've pointed out before). We just ostracize anew - we create a new "other" that we can harm, insult, degrade - and it does little to truly change the fundamentals that need changing.

Barbra said...