Hey, I’ve been out a whole three years as of today. Go me! Yes, HRC’s National Coming Out Day activities kicked me out of the closet, to grossly oversimplify it.
And recently I’ve been thinking of Sonnet 13 from Adrienne Rich’s Twenty-One Love Poems:
we’re out in a country that has no language
whatever we do together is pure invention
the maps they gave us were out of date
because that’s how it feels, sometimes, when I try to explain to people about Winter and I. One of my classmates mentioned she was in a long-distance relationship, and I said, “Oh, me too.” She replied, “Are you dating or married?” And I didn’t know how to respond to that. For one thing, hello heteronormativity, nice to see you again, and for another, that just seems so reductive. To boil all the various permutations of human emotions down to Dating or Married. I’ve had “relationships” that involved very strong, deeply felt emotions but no physical expression…and vice versa. I’ve done the Dating thing and frankly, give me a drunken anonymous hook-up in a foreign bar any day of the week.
There just doesn’t seem to be the right words to describe the relationship I’m in, the relationship I want to build, with the usual romantic vocabulary. “Dating” to me suggests a set of activities: wining, dining, flowers and the like. It implies scheduled rendez-vous, a Getting To Know You period full of arcane, unexplained rules (who pays? How soon should you call them? No Sex on the First Date!). In which case, Winter and I are certainly not dating. Unless you want to include transatlantic phone calls and IM messages, since those have to be scheduled, thanks to the 8 hour time difference. As for “Married”, HA! (she said derisively). Even if it were legal, neither of us are particulary big fans of the institution and are perfectly happy to let straights keep that tradition. “Married” seems to put a value judgement on personal relationships–people who are Married (or Civilly Unionized or Domestically Partnered) have real, meaningful relationships, and those of us who are Dating are just doing a dry run. There’s a reason why Bridget calls them Smug Marrieds. Even if the federal government legalized gay marriage tomorrow, even if I want to spend the rest of my life with one person, I would only get married if legal circumstances (children/insurance/whathaveyou) required it. It doesn’t bother me when my straight friends get married, because it’s their business, and if they’re happy, I’m happy for them. But I don’t want any government approval, thank you, and I don’t want to participate in an institution that has far too much historical baggage for my taste. What I want and need from a relationship may be very different from the usual Duties and Expectations of Marriage. I’d rather negotiate that on my own than have some outside societal structure dictate how I manage my personal life. I’ll never be a “wife,” and I won’t have one either.
Which leaves the question: what do I call this person? I use “my girlfriend” since it’s the most common term, but it still causes confusion between “romantic partner” and “friend who’s a girl.” How do I explain this person to my family, who can only think in terms of Dating or Married? Would they ever see a girlfriend/partner of mine in the same way as they’d see a spouse of my sibling? Does she get to be a part of the family even without the priest’s blessing?
It’s just plain silly, with all the diversity of human life on this planet, to expect every emotional/physical/romantic tie to follow one particular standard. The gay marriage fight makes me nervous, because I worry about it taking attention away from what I feel is one of the queer community’s strengths, to create families of choice, to form relationships that fit us, rather than trying to fit our relationships into a heteronormative model.