October 16, 2004

Gay Marriage Hypocrisy

I don't especially like talking about sex, as such, in public. And I also don't usually care to talk about the details of romantic relationships that aren't mine, or those of friends who choose to discuss them, with people who have no good reason to know. In general, I'd just rather it didn't come up.

Similar feelings likely prompt many people who support gay rights in principle not to stand up for them in public. It isn't just the concern, as mentioned in my previous post, that some throwback to the Dark Ages will yank hard on the desire of every listener to be perceived as being 'moral' by the standards of the biggest loudmouths. Perversely, the desire not to look like a no-good corrupter of the youth seems to plague Democratic politicians the worst in this kind of situation. Probably for the reason that such charges will be leveled against them whether or not they actually do or support anything questionable.

Even discussing straight sex torques a tight knot of sexual guilt, confusion, and frustration that looms large in the American psyche. Is this wholly healthy? Probably not, but it is what it is. Similar discomfort comes up when public discussion turns to children born to unmarried teenagers, abortion, birth control, whether or not there should be sex education in schools, prostitution, or promiscuity generally. But none of these issues is associated with a discrete group of people for their entire lives.

Sex is a subject that many people would rather explore in the privacy of their homes and not be bothered about in public. Still, some silences have to be broken. If only so you can get to the point where winks, nods and opprobrium can be replaced by nobody giving a good goddam about things that don't concern them.

It hasn't escaped notice that people who make the biggest deal over controlling other's lives are those who feel they have the least control of issues that really bother them. (If they're just trying to leverage the hysteria of others into power for themselves, there's a circle of Hell waiting just for them.) It's people with religious persecution complexes, or those who feel perpetually insecure and forgotten by society that feel the most need to have a say in the private choices of others. It's countries who feel manipulated by more powerful neighbors, or whose rulers know that their hold on power is fragile, who most tend to pass laws restricting choices that only affect the participants.

This isn't morality or spirituality, it's projection. Morality is something you practice for yourself, and spirituality is something you practice to develop a relationship with whatever higher power you believe in. Trying to force the behavior of others comes from a desire to turn feelings of being trapped and powerless into strictures on anyone you feel is enjoying life more than you are. It's a desire to share the misery. A big F*** YOU to the world, and everyone else in it.

Tonight (Friday) on MSNBC, Patrick Buchanan was furious about Kerry's mention of the Cheney's daughter, and arguing against gay rights at the same time. (MSNBC is notoriously slow with transcripts, sorry.) His argument against gay relationships was that sex outside of marriage is sinful, and it went unsaid that of course, all gay relationships now exist outside of marriage. Unless you live in Canada, Massachusetts, or a couple European countries I'm too lazy to look up.

This is exactly why, imo, gay rights produces the reaction it does in people. The right has done such a bang up job of presenting gay issues as a matter of illicit sex, pure and simple, that there's no separating it from the vast majority of issues that that all people share regardless of orientation. Gay relationships are assumed by default to be outside the norm of what everyone else deals with, and to talk about them at all is for many to have to talk about sex. Which is why the Buchanans of the world are deathly afraid of gay marriage.

They want to continue equating gay relationships with sex and promiscuity. Two subjects that reliably make people uncomfortable and stifle conversation. Even those who don't have a problem with alternate orientations or lifestyles may not really be sure how to talk about them.

If gay people can get married, then the storyline that being gay always equals promiscuity, sex outside of marriage, and all the attendant scare lines such people bring up about the need to choose either marriage or lifelong celibacy, just go away. Gay relationships need to get the social narrative cover straight relationships enjoy without even working for it; where the default story is that they're some degree of life relationships first, and sexual relationships second.

The reality for any given couple may be quite different, but it doesn't matter, because the subject of sex gets relegated to the background. That's really one of the best things about marriage. Besides the issue of providing a useful additional parent, it gives people great ice-breakers when relationships come up. It's a social lubricant that comfortably steers through perilous subjects.

You talk to people who aren't married, and you can sympathize with the difficulty of finding someone nice, bug them about when they're going to tie the knot, or ask if they've found the One. You meet a newlywed, you congratulate them and ask where they honeymooned. Run into people with long term partnerships, you can kvetch about trading off chores and sharing the covers.

Point is, there are scripts for these things that minimize awkwardness. And that awkwardness will remain in this country until the first generation not to be freakishly uptight about sex starts collecting Social Security. That may be a while. For now we need scripts so the dread subject doesn't hang over the conversation, and everybody can relax about it.

Right before they get back to worrying about having a job next year, getting decent healthcare, being forced to live on cat food when they're old, being lied to by politicians, robbed by corporations, priced out of the housing market, in debt for a decade after college, getting out of abusive relationships, paying the bills, finding a decent school for the kidlets, being able to take a little time off to maintain their sanity, or just staying up nights praying for family members in dangerous places. Or other serious things we could deal with if so much energy wasn't wasted on trying to make it okay to preserve the last publicly sanctioned frontier of bigotry.

Posted by natasha at October 16, 2004 01:46 AM | GLBT | Technorati links |

Excellent essay, natasha. And so is the one below. You have a gift at pulling together ambiguous and complex issues into a clear, well-thought out piece that gets right to the nub of the problem. And this is one that gets it especially right.

Posted by: Mary at October 16, 2004 09:44 AM

How eloquent.

Posted by: Andy at October 16, 2004 12:49 PM

Mmmm... nookie.


Posted by: NBarnes at October 16, 2004 11:11 PM