Tuesday, 27 March 2012

On straight people 'sacrificing' their weddings

To straight people pledging not to get married until same sex marriage is legally recognised: please, don't do it for me.

If you want to get married or don't want to get married, that's okay. If you don't want to get married because you believe marriage is tainted by being only available to certain people, I understand that. If you don't want to get married as an individual protest: well I think it's ineffectual and I actually find it irritating, but that's your right, but don't pretend you're doing it for those who never asked you to do it.

I confess I don't really understand the whole idea of "I'm going to sacrifice things I have that other people can't". If we lived by that maxim I'd never go to the movies, never use transport, never eat a nice meal, never wear new clothes. The world's set up that some people have things other's can't: we can and should fight that, but we can't just opt out of it.

If you want to support queer rights, ask some queer people what they want you to do. Maybe some will say "don't get married" - we're not exactly a monolith, but I'm confident they'd be a minority. If you asked me, I'd ask for you to help me paste some posters, for $50 towards printing (maybe you could opt for cheaper chair covers), to like and share a facebook page, to challenge transphobia and homophobia where you see it, to join a march, to tell any young people close to you that it is okay, it really is okay. You can do one or more of those and still get married - see, much less of an imposition on your life.

Don't assume that our priorities are the same as yours, or what you assume yours would be. Don't assume that we all have the same priority. Don't assume that we want to get married, or that we don't.

Don't assume there's some clear dividing line between equality and oppression, when some queer people can marry now and some relationships will almost certainly be ineligible for state recognition when same sex marriage is recognised, and marriage rights won't change so many things anyway.

If you're in a situation where marriage carries important practical benefits, where it is necessary for you to obtain healthcare or immigration status, please don't screw with your life like that. Not only do I not want to see that happen to you, I'd honestly rather be putting my energy into activism, rather than worrying about the needless 'sacrifice' you've made.

These types of actions, however well intentioned, always feel like an appropriation. Actions that make it all about the straight couple. Actions that we're supposed to feel grateful for, that we're supposed to appreciate, that we're supposed to owe you something for, when most of us never wanted them in the first place.

Enjoy your marriage, your civil union, your handfasting, your pissup, your relationship unaccompanied by an event, whatever. I'll be wishing you well; if I know you well enough I'll be there, taking advantage of the free food. And when you get back from your honeymoon, or recover from your hangover: well, I could use some help on a poster run...


IHStewart said...

" These types of actions, however well intentioned, always feel like an appropriation. Actions that make it all about the straight couple. Actions that we're supposed to feel grateful for, that we're supposed to appreciate, that we're supposed to owe you something for, when most of us never wanted them in the first place."

Whist I have no intention of getting or not getting married over this issue my gut feeling is that you are disparaging those who feel strongly enough to take a principled stand on it. I guess my opposition to apartheid could be viewed from the same perspective. That it wasn't is something you might want to contemplate. Your post strikes me as petulant at best but more probably arrogant.

anthea said...

IHStewart - what form did your opposition to apartheid take? It's hard for me to consider a comparison without that information.

If you decided you wouldn't vote because that right was denied to many people in South Africa, and told them you were doing it for their benefit, I'd feel basically the same (though obviously have an outsider's perspective).

If, like many people, you participated in a mass boycott, that's exactly the sort of organised action I'm advocating.

A Nonny Moose said...

"you are disparaging those who feel strongly enough to take a principled stand on it."

Dawww, poor widdle hetero feelings are all hurty wurty.

To quote: "If you want to support queer rights, ask some queer people what they want you to do."

Ask NOT what privileged hetero peeps can do for the queers, ask what the queers want you to do.

Petulant? Anger is a valid emotion, especially when you've been treated like a second class citizen all your life. Arrogant? Well f*** me if queer people know more about their experience than straight people do...

IHStewart said...

Closing a bank account and protesting while at school, not voting wasn't an option due to age initially and would have been as you point out pointless and condescending in a New Zealand context, however in a South African context it would be a very valid non violent protest and that is a great comparison to this issue.

Actually the more I think about it the more appropriate a straight boycott on marriage seems. Either that or traveling to a jurisdiction that recognises same sex marriage, an imposition NZ imposes on part of our community.

anthea said...

Thanks Nonny :)

IHStewart: As I explicitly said, it's okay to do or not do things because you feel strongly about them. There's a cafe I won't eat in and a bus service I am reluctant to use because I have particular disagreement with where the profits go. But I don't kid myself this is a political action I'm making on behalf of someone else or for their benefit.

A mass boycott of marriage which is led principally or wholly by the queer community would be a different matter altogether.

Herp said...

"Ask NOT what privileged hetero peeps can do for the queers, ask what the queers want you to do"

Isn't that basically two ways of saying the same thing?

LudditeJourno said...

This post is great Anthea, I really enjoyed it, even while disagreeing fundamentally with you :-)
I guess for me any action which challenges privilege and raises awareness of the existence of that privilege has disruptive potential. Like how we "do" culture shifts a little. If a straight person chooses not to marry because queer people can't, and tells everyone in their life that's why, then the rumblings of social change are happening I reckon, and I'm into that. Though I'm in complete agreement that listening to the people you have structural privilege over is always the best strategy when it comes to being an ally. Hope that doesn't mean I'm turning into a post feminist :-)

Flynn the Cat said...

All the examples of giving something up don't do any good in and of themselves - but they are fantastic for awareness raising.

It's true, in this case, that anyone who 'gives up' marriage is already well educated on the issues (as opposed to someone doing a 24 hour famine on something, who probably learns more by doing it!), but in this case... imagine the conversations.

"Gays don't need to marry"
"Yeah, that's why we're not marrying"
"WHAT. You - you're not marrying? But don't you want [insert argument here]."

If they just don't tell anyone and say 'oh, we're not ready yet' then no, it's probably useless. But if they turn it into an awareness raising issue, then they will educate people and motivate others to have a stake in gay marriage becoming legal (because then their straight friends will finally get to marry too, yay!). Some people don't listen when an 'oppressed' group complains about how oppressed they are, but do when someone else points out that actually, it isn't fair.

I.M Fletcher said...

I noticed that today the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that gay marriage is NOT a "human right".

Same-sex marriages are not a human right, European judges have ruled.

Their decision shreds the claim by ministers that gay marriage is a universal human right and that same-sex couples have a right to marry because their mutual commitment is just as strong as that of husbands and wives.

The ruling was made by judges of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg following a case involving a lesbian couple in a civil partnership who complained the French courts would not allow them to adopt a child as a couple.

Anonymous said...

Our wedding celebrant was a gay man. He is not a celebrant for civil unions, because he finds them an insulting "separate but equal" institution. His view was that straight couples who want to get married SHOULD get married and should explain to anyone and everyone why marriage is important to them, and that marriage equality for same-sex couples is important for all the reasons marriage is important. I mention this as an example of the range of views a straight person might here would hear upon asking some queer people about the topic - I don't mean to suggest it's a representative view. Personally, as a bisexual woman in a hetrosexual relationship, I agree wholeheartedly that gay and lesbian couples should be able to marry, but that in the meantime, straight couples who want to marry should go ahead and tie the knot. If I'd happened to have fallen in love with a woman instead of a man I'd have wanted the option to get married - I'm not going to give that up as some empty gesture when as it happens, it is available to me and the person I love.

We have a very lefty liberal circle of friends, and when we annouced that we were getting married, a lot of people asked why we weren't getting a civil union (because marriage is so passe). Our response was that we believed that civil unions were a cop-out compromise and gay and lesbian couples should be able to marry and have all the privileges of marriage (here and overseas). I think that was probably a more awareness raising conversation than if we had not gotten married, which would have passed unnoticed completely.

Of course not all gay and lesbian couples want to get married, for a variety of reasons - but the issue is having the option. A straight couple who chooses not to get married (even as a political gesture) still has the option. Push come to shove, if your partner was moving overseas and marriage was the only way of getting a visa, you could pop down to a registry office and get it sorted. And frankly you probably would.

- Elley

Anonymous said...

My point there was that a lot of our friends seemed to think civil unions "solved the gay marriage problem" - which I disagree with, and which was brought up in conversation because we were getting married (in case I didn't make that clear).

- Elley

Anita said...

I've been mulling over this since I read it, so this may be half-formed waffle :) It is probably also coloured by the fact that I don't think the state should not be involved in marriage anyway :)

My first thought is, to be overly blunt, that it's not all about you and you should just accept my choices as mine. If I choose a civil union over a wedding because I am more comfortable with the former because it is open to me no matter what the gender of my partner is, then it's about my choice and my comfort - not about you or your gratitude.

While you say it's "okay" for me to make that choice, you then go on sound like my choice would offend you and feel like an appropriation of your stuff. Woah there! Don't go judging my choices, disapproving of my life, making my life all about you, or trying to make me responsible for your bad feelings.

You saying that it "make[s] it all about the straight couple", well that's because it is - it's all about their choice, why're you wanting to make their civil union all about you?

My second thought, is that you seem to have overlooked the complexity of these issues for non-queer people. To take an example, many Quakers and Quaker meetings have struggled with these issues if they (as many do) will celebrate a marriage in care of the meeting between two people of the same gender as well as different genders. If members of the meeting truly believe that the marriages are equal and their care for them is equal, how can the reconcile themselves to signing paperwork for only different gender couples? Or, to turn it around, if they will sign for one how can they withhold their signature from the other? If they will witness for God in both marriages, how can they give different testimony of that witness depending on the gender of the couple?

Perhaps, to you, this is unimportant, or at least far less important than how you will feel that they are making you feel by making the assumptions you have assumed they make. But perhaps, to them, these are real questions of care, love and faith.

anthea said...

Anita - well my distinction really was between people who make a choice as a result of personal conscience, and those who view it as a gift to people in support of queer rights. The former I only touched on because it really isn't the point of this post. The distinction would probably have been clearer had Facebook not become so screwed up it's impossible to find the group that triggered this rant (albeit an issue I'd been thinking about for sometime).

If your decision is the former, you're damn right it's not about me. If you present it as the direction fighting for queer rights should take, I'm going to critique it to all hell. And if - as people have been doing - you present it as some kind of gift I should be grateful for, then it is _you_ that is making it about me, and I've every right to be pissed off.

I'm sorry if my statement that "that's okay" came across as some kind of grudging tolerance. It was intended a statement of neutrality - a recognition that your (hypothetical you) choice to marry or not marry is exactly that, and not, as a general rule, something which has a big impact on me or that I would concern myself with, aside from close friends the details of whose lives I do take an interest in as a matter of course.

Anonymous said...

You know that sometimes queer people end up in hetero relationships. And they might make a principled stand in that case which is definitely valid.

Anthea, you say: "A mass boycott of marriage which is led principally or wholly by the queer community would be a different matter altogether."

How do you propose this could happen if queer people are - aside from the exception I just mentioned - excluded from marriages altogether? You can't boycott something you aren't part of.


Anonymous said...

Also, what do you think about cis people - for example - boycotting transphobic companies like Hell's Pizza? Is that appropriation in your mind or is it a sign of solidarity? I think consumer and behavioural choices make a strong statement and are a good way of conveying a political statement. AFAIK straight people don't usually protest homophobic laws because they want to "rescue" the poor wee gays. They do it because they believe it is wrong that gay people can't get married.


Labrys said...

Anthea, you say that you are confident that only a minority of queer people would disagree with you and look favourably on straight people not getting married, but I wonder why... coz it seems that here it's not a minority.

Did you ask around your queer friends or did you guess that queer people would agree with you?

GoodGravey said...

The fundamental point I take from anthea's post is this: Do what you feel in your heart to be right for you, but do not kid yourself you are doing it "for" anyone, or that you represent anyone.

I am actively involved in supporting human rights - whether queer, POC, women, trans, disabled. When I started, I was terribly worried that I might seem to think I am speaking for them. I learned that what I say, what I do, is because of what I believe in. I speak for myself. If that by chance lends weight to other causes, then I am really happy about that.

As A Nonny Noose says - if I wanted to do something more direct to support a cause, I will seek guidance from those leading the charge. "How can I help you in your endeavours?" is such an easy thing to do, but seldom actually done.

Kony2012 is a classic example of this. A bunch of privileged white people charging in to "save" Ugandans without actually understanding what it is the people they are saving want. If you think Kony is a bad man and want him stopped, fine - do whatever you can to stop him. But don't think for a moment you speak for the Ugandans.

By the same token, what I take from anthea's post is "marry, don't marry, do whatever you feel is right for you, and follow your own cause, but don't presume you are speaking for queer people in doing so".

At least that is my take on it.

Anonymous said...

I find this post interesting, and discomforting. I am a female person engaged to a male person. We've been considering the fact that we have two options for legalising our relationship and that only one of those options is open to everyone.

Frankly, I demand the right to be annoyed on principle that same sex couples don't have the same rights. I don't by any means demand the right to speak on behalf of my gay friends, but I feel that you're being a bit uncharitable to those of us who simply wish to make a stand when we're given the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, it generally does take some movement by the privileged majority to get the equality agenda moved forward, on a range of issues. This doesn't mean we're jumping up and down saying "look at me, I'm so liberal and enlightened, give me points for caring about YOUR issue".
I mean I get it, many people engage in political actions as attention-seeking stunts, and yeah they're annoying. But the paradox is that if you don't draw any attention at all to your decision to - for example - get a CU instead of a marriage because you'd rather partake in the option that is more inclusive, then maybe it wouldn't have a chance of making people think.. that said, I do take note of the DIA stats about how many same-sex and opposite-sex couples have got CUs so far. And maybe adding our union to the gradually growing data pile would be a quiet, non-showy way of participating in some gradual societal changes.

Incidentally, I'm not sure how queer people can easily lead a "boycott against traditional marriage"? Feel free to let me know, but I'd imagine it would be hard to get such a boycott going without the cooperation of the straights who are currently allowed to go for traditional marriages?

Forgive me if I'm doing a straight version of mansplaining here (is there a name for that??) but please be aware that most people take stands like this because they care about a human rights principle, not because they're convinced they know what's good for other groups of people.

Jane E

Acid Queen said...

"Forgive me if I'm doing a straight version of mansplaining here (is there a name for that??) "