Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Under Threat of Marriage

In a family, indeed a culture, deathly obsessed with normalcy and public opinion, marriage has been perhaps the only constant and universally applicable aspiration. Every one of us, girl or boy (gender dichotomies being the only other familial constant), groomed (poorly at that) to one day become someone’s wife: the abnegated and obedient giver of unconditional love, devotion and body; or, someone’s husband: the selfish and conditional taker of love, devotion and body.

More than a right of passage, marriage was the inevitable step to take toward fulfilling one’s purpose in life: produce and reproduce. Those who failed to reproduce this home-based structure of capitalist and moral manufactured goods were begrudgingly seated at the children’s table, looked upon with sad and disappointed glances accompanied by profound sighs of hope. At least this was the fate of ripe –and past due– for marriage single men. Single women of age and beyond, who had failed to meet their obligation were either left para vestir santos or relegated to the status of whoredom if they had failed to marry or maintain a marriage; the status of those who entered motherhood outside of marriage was (is) much worse.

As a young boy growing up in Chihuahua, marriage was held to a sacred standard that surpassed even Catholicism. My abuela Antonia, who readily abandoned the Pope for the arms of Baptists missionaries, even attributed health benefits to those who exchanged vows. She believed marriage even helped overcome lifelong medical conditions.

Mirroring the story of many queer people I know, I worked tirelessly to compensate for the fact that I would never grant my family the joy of seeing me standing at the foot of an altar waiting for a woman who, more than being dressed in white, was worthy (in their eyes) of wearing such a color. Early on, I knew I would fail to perform the most sacred of acts. My only other option was to excel in every other possible way. My academic and professional achievements became the consolation prizes with which I attempted to hide the lifelong shame I brought to the mythological family legacies of marriage and happiness.

The night I was disowned my father called me a rama seca, a dried branch, of our family tree. The son of the patriarch, my body and way of loving cut the circulation of Herrera genes. I strangled the hope for offspring and desecrated the purpose for which my family’s white and male creator brought me to this world.

It was in the process of mourning the consequences of loving with integrity that I learned to celebrate the painfully earned immunity that my queerness had given me. As one whose unconsecrated love would never be condoned or celebrated, I was free to love on my own terms. Most liberating of all, I was free to equate and separate love and desire as I pleased, with whom I pleased, and with as many as I pleased. I was no longer bound.

In the midst of my newfound joy and newly discovered emotional and sexual freedom, came the right to marry. With the strike of pens, elected officials and courts in various parts of the world began granting same-sex couples the right to enter into legal and, in some cases, moral contract.

I confused our path toward government-sanctioned love with the possibility that this love, this way of loving, would one day also become sanctioned by the world I live in, and more importantly, those with whom I share these last names. Sadly, with some exceptions, I was right.

The advent of equality has granted others the right to toss my love and way of loving to the wretched realm of normalcy. My relationship to one man now grants me the privilege of being distinguished, respected and called upon for matters of family and industry. Yet I am not allowed to speak, much less openly live, the sexuality of my queerness. The casualty of equality has been my desire.

I support the right to marry in as much as it is unjust for it to be a special right reserved for those who partake in heterosexual dyads, but I do not abandon my convictions in the process. I celebrate and honor the legal marriages of my loved ones, and truly cherish those whose legal contracts exist within revolutionary constructs of love and partnership, while remaining critical of a movement that has fed my desire to the gods of normativity and acceptance. 

I do not believe it serves anyone for us to witness the shaping of homonormative mores without being critical. This movement toward equality has made marriage sacrosanct, at times mirroring the oppressive dogma-infused enforcement laid upon the opposite gender loving. My fear is that, as our once queer cultures shift toward normalcy, we may be giving up the right to choose in exchange for the right to marry.

Sacred as it may be, the marriage we seek access to is not void of the pervasive ills feminists have long warned about. Even as critiques of the marriage equality movement persist, critical dialogue around “marriage” itself is an unspeakable sin. It is dangerous to believe that marriage, an institution infused by (some would argue, born out of) misogyny, racism and economic exploitation, is immune to such forces simply by existing within same-sex contexts. There is nothing about the modern-day LGBT movement that leads me to believe this would be a given.

Certainly, I hold hope that the manufacturing of equality will lead toward a changed social consciousness that values the same-sex performance of couplehood, such that the bodies of such performers are treated with dignity and respect. But I do not fool myself in believing that those who refuse to perform legislative and morally approved relationship roles will enjoy the same treatment. 

Such happiness is not bestowed upon those who dare love on their own terms; those who love more than one; those who love multiple genders, as well as genderless and multiple-gendered bodies; and, those who refuse to love at all. It seems we have conflated the right to marry with the obligation to do so. For others to assume I will marry one day is dangerously close and familiar to the expectation that I will. For marriage to be an option for queer communities might be a sign of progress, yet for it to become the norm is a sad tragedy.

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