All The Lonely People

Posted: July 21, 2010 in Feminism, Identity, Uncategorized

I found myself on my soap box again today. It is odd, ‘after feminism’ (af), as I am not sure exactly which issues are going to get my blood racing and my political heart beating again. Turns out it will probably be the same ones that always did. Somebody sent me this link, supporting gay people’s campaigns for equal marriage rights. This is a particularly hot topic in America at the moment, where various state governments are debating laws about the status of marriage for gay people:

A few things got my goat. One was the assumption of the sender of the link that everyone would support the campaign unquestioningly. That we all think ‘gay marriage rights’ are a good thing. I am no fan of the institution of marriage. It is one of those massive big issues in my history as a feminist that have stuck with me: why support a ritual that is designed to keep people within a church-endorsed, state-controlled, utterly gendered and heteronormative structure? (My parents never married so this will have influenced me as well).  It is one thing I thought gay people would be pleased to be free from. I go with Mark Simpson’s views on this subject:

I also found the website linked to, very Christian and ‘family values’ oriented:  it portrayed marriage as a badge of ‘cultural respect’ for couples, placing civil partnerships as second best. When I was last in a long-term committed relationship, with a man, albeit a rather ‘gay’ man in many ways, we said we’d like to have a civil partnership. My partner was a Christian and he joked that we couldn’t get married because I don’t believe in God, and he doesn’t believe in the state. But we couldn’t have a civil partnership either, as straight people in the Uk are not entitled to them.  I’m glad we didn’t cement our union as we’d only be uncivilly separated now. But I liked our sentiment.

And then there’s something else. A deeper feeling I have had for many years. That the problem with ceremonies and institutions that promote the importance of the ‘couple’ in society, is that this occurs at the expense of all the people who can’t or don’t want to live up to that ideal of monogamy. Of happily ever after, at the exclusion of all others. There’s people who are non-monogamous. I thought quite a few gay people were. But also there’s the lonely people. The Smiths fans that took Morrissey at his word, who loved his songs, because they’d ‘never loved no-one never’. Because they were the sons and  heirs to ‘ a shyness that is criminally vulgar’. I’ve always thought about those people, even when I have been in a relationship. Maybe it is purely selfish and psychological, and that is the ‘identity’ I hold in my heart, despite the relationships I have somehow managed to form, but always to lose. Or maybe I just don’t like social institutions that make being single or alone seem so unacceptable and inferior. Because quite a lot of the time I have been single, I have actually been quite fine with it thank-you very much.

I don’t really have a big polemic here. But I will leave you with some footage of one of my favourite lonely people, Mike from My Own Private Idaho. Nobody would marry him. Nobody really loved him truly. Except for thousands of fans of the film, who identified with his alienation, and loved his humanity and the fact people like him were acknowledged on film (especially as he was played by the gorgeous River Phoenix). And then I will give you some music. And we might not live happily ever after. But fuck it we are alive.  There’s one thing I know about lonely people. They are not alone.

  1. Dave Weeden says:

    I’ve changed my mind on this. I used to be with you – that is, basically anti-marriage. My preferred term of abuse in those days was ‘bourgeois’. And I’m probably still anti-marriage, I like to cite that Joyce only got married to Nora Barnacle after they’d lived together something like 17 years, and Goethe never succumbed.

    Disclaimer: I have attended, as one of the ‘best men’, a gay commitment ceremony, in Austin, Texas of all places. I thought that was fairly bogus then, and, since it didn’t last, it seems I was right.

    But I think it’s a question of parity. Straight people have the choice to get married if that’s their, so to speak, bent. Gay people, even the very, ahem, straight ones (I’m in a strange mood tonight) don’t have the choice. And that’s what I think is the difference. I think if the state does recognise marriage (and there are economic reasons why it should), it should do so for all.

    I find Ed Miliband very disingenuous about this, and I think it’s one of his greatest weakness.

    Finally, recognition of gay marriage would also kill off some humbug. Andrew Sullivan, whom I like when he agrees with me, and not otherwise, really got under my skin by calling the late poet Thom Gunn “married”. He lived in San Francisco, FFS, which did recognise the ceremony. Gunn and his very long-term partner chose not to marry (they were open about having sex with others). For Sullivan, all long-term relationships are as good as marriage – but, really, they’re not. It’s a choice. And I want it to be a choice gay couples are free not to make.

    Oh, I love early Tom Waits, too, BTW. My occasional 4th cat is called ‘Martha’ after a song on that album.

    • I see what you are saying, Dave re: choice. But I don’t like how some gay people aspire to the institution and ‘respectability’ of marriage, when that kind of institutional respectability is what has oppressed and excluded them all these years. It seems kind of masochistic to me.

  2. One of my friends’ children is called Martha because I suggested it because of that song. Her marriage was an advert for the destruction of marriage , though. I know it is a big subject. But I think it’s a topic that needs debating and not just assuming that ‘supporting equality=supporting gay marriage’.

  3. Kimboosan says:

    Synchronicity! I was just reading Justin Smith’s own questions about this issue ( which I found compelling, particularly in the “corrective vs. constructive” approached to marriage equity.

    Being polyamorous myself by nature, it’s definitely something I think about. Were I to find myself in my perfect triad, how could I legally protect those relations?

    My step-brother the lawyer actually says incorporating is a more solid legal arrangement than marriage, and we have seriously considered incorporating our family as it can be flexible enough to include other siblings, spouses, children, etc. (and I am in the States, so I have no clue about a similar arrangement anywhere else). IANAL so I have no idea how well it would work in practice, but it is food for thought in the simple context of “what else but marriage?”

    But the simple truth is, we as biological creatures have some need for these kind of relationship structures and definitions; we do not like not having them, culturally speaking, so people end up fighting correctively for gay marriage because the recognition of that contract is /important/ to them. Perhaps it is the step that must be taken to get to the point of constructively fighting for alternatives to marriage. I can’t say as I know, I’m not that much of a philosopher, but I am glad that you are bringing these questions up. As with the whole “nature vs. nurture” debate, what we think is a good fight can sometimes bite us in the ass.

  4. Hi Kim!
    I don’t really know what ‘incorporating’ is. I wonder if it is specific to the U.s. currently?
    I will read that Justin Smith article with interest. I am pleased people are turning a critical eye to this subject and not just accepting doctrine from any side.
    It is definitely a subject we cant talk about without reverting to our upbringing and our experience. Thats true of everything but this in particular I think.

    • Kimboosan says:

      Hope you find his essay as interesting as I did!

      By incorporation I mean the legal process of setting up a corporation as businesses do. There is no law in the U.S. that stipulates a corporation has to be for /business/, particularly, although it has to be defined as profit or non-profit. In the U.S. corporations have specific tax shelters and legal protections (as marriage does, only differently); if my family were incorporated and I were to die, for instance, my ‘estate’ would remain a part of the corporation, and the board of directors (my family) could use it as per my requests or as stipulated by the bylaws. Which is not the full picture of course but is the general idea. I don’t think it has every actually been done.

  5. I see. That sounds a very original way of approaching the legalisation of a family unit! Let me know if you go for it.

  6. JenniferRuth says:

    I agree with you on this subject. I am not fan of the institution of marriage either, for many of the reasons that you mentioned and a few more. Neither would I want a civil partnership, although it would be immensely preferable to marriage. Regardless, I don’t see myself ever getting married or “civil partnered” because frankly, I don’t think my relationship needs ligitimising from the state. Or god. Or anyone.

    I do understand why marriage equality is important to LGBT groups though. Marriage does mean a lot to many people and that isn’t going away any time soon. More than this, LGBT people should have the same rights as any straight couple and the fact that they don’t is an issue of discrimination. Whatever my thoughts about marriage I still think LGBT people should be able to get married or reject the entire notion, the same as straight people can. And straight people should be able to get a civil partnership. This “separate but equal” thing the UK has going at the moment ain’t on.

  7. Mark says:

    The position ‘I don’t really agree with marriage myself but gays should have the right to choose or reject marriage’ sounds very reasonable – which is probably it’s main appeal. But it’s not a proper argument. It’s possibly closer to condescending hypocrisy than egalitarianism. It certainly doesn’t show any intellectual rigour.

    Peter Tatchell, now the biggest proponent of gay marriage in the UK, perhaps because there are very few other Big Gay Discrimination Issues left, takes this position. He says he would never get married himself, but calls it a ‘simple matter of equality’ – and throws in various dubious comparisons with apartheid and segregation.

    Now, if you were to ask him why he doesn’t want to get married I suspect you’d hear Peter say something about the not terribly inspiring history of marriage, how it treats women as chattel, the worship of tradition, the role of religion etc. etc.

    This isn’t exactly irrelevant. Unless you want to make a fetish out of ‘equal rights’ for its own fine-sounding sake.

    Yes, of course those gays and lesbians who are unhappy with the full legal recognition of civil partnerships and determined to see them not as a new kind of institution for a new kind of relationship but rather as something ‘second class’ and get fully gay married are very entitled to campaign passionately for that outcome. But I haven’t come across too many of them in the UK.

    The argument that you have to be ‘for’ gay marriage because otherwise you’re ‘against’ equality – which is usually what it comes down to – isn’t an argument at all, of course. At best, it’s just absurd. At worst, it’s just moronic arm-twisting.

    ‘Full’ gay marriage will of course eventually come to the UK. I’m not going to try and stop it – but nor am I going to lift a finger towards hastening it.

    Civil partnerships for cross-sex couples I have lifted a finger for, however:

  8. ‘Increasingly popular prenuptial agreements take the realistic precaution of getting divorced before you get married’. Haha.

    Thanks for lifting a finger for ‘equality’ including the right of heterosexuals to get civilly partnered, Mark. Or should I say cross-sex couples? Now I come to think of it, my own not-quite-civilly-partnered relationship was not exactly ‘heterosexual’ ! But that’s another story.

    I am saddened Mr Tatchell has not approached this issue with more subtlty and analytic panache. He could be a great advocate of civil partnerships for all.

  9. Liandra Dahl says:

    Thought provoking blog posts and comments. The history of marriage is depressing (I know that the first marriage vows were between a groom and father of the bride and went along the lines of “I give you this woman for the ploughing of legitimate children”). I’m not a fan of state legislation on adult consensual relationships either. However, personally I do like ritual and celebration as a part of how I live and I’ve been married and would marry again. It is a personal choice who you wish to marry and/or how many and/or what sex your partner(s) is(are) and should not be a decision made by a state that has an agenda to enforce a heteronomative monogamous paradigm.

    As a quick aside I don’t care if marriages last or if they’re happy. It is none of my business nor anyone elses and has NO relevance regarding exclusionary legislation of who can participate. I honestly don’t think longevity is always an indicator of the greatness of a relationship either.

    So what I feel is that marriage equality for GLBTQ people is important and does need to happen as PART OF a bigger picture for individual liberty. Marriage and civil unions need to be liberated from state controlled definitions of who can and who can’t. If you are adults and the marriage is consensual and of freewill then it should be possible to get a license in a secular state for that marriage or civil union.

  10. humbition says:

    I will leave aside the usual topic of comments because I am moved by your remembrance of the lonely and solitary. I am coupled which is the state I like to be in, I am supportive of marriage as it suits me (feminists can point out that as a cis het male I benefit and indeed I do). Nevertheless, I think it is good to honor the solitary and the lonely in this world, give a thought to them not of pity nor of regret — but human fellow feeling.

    It seems that not a lot of good words are said on behalf of the lonely. There are altogether too many berating them for being lonely, and speculating on the reasons for this condition, usually amounting to some deep flaw. Then again, being human, according to some popular religions, involves being deeply flawed in one way or another — sometimes that flaw is the willingness to be too judgmental of others. To invent new and devilish diagnoses to apply to wider and wider groups of flawed human beings, and then to perfect one’s invective against them, as a way of holding one’s banner high while marching towards a better society!

    In reaction to this prominent tendency as I saw it on the blogosphere I unearthed this old post which I had seen of yours. Let’s raise a glass to the lonely, remember the lonely times which had their own texture and meaning.

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