Sunday, July 14, 2013

My Queer Aversion to Marriage

Olga García Echeverría

The best wedding I ever attended was in Guadalajara, where the Chicana bride and Mexican groom arrived at a quaint colonial-styled church on a horse-drawn carriage, like in those classic, black-&-white Mexican films. At night, a pathway of candles lit the entrance to the dance hall. It was all so romantic, lovely, and dangerous; as the bridesmaids entered the hall for the waltz, one of the bridesmaid dresses caught fire. There was panic and smoke, but the flaming vestido was quickly extinguished, and the celebration continued full force with a live band, a mariachi, a DJ, and (ironically) dancing fire jugglers. People go all out to celebrate matrimony, and I won’t lie—I love me a good wedding. I’ll gleefully throw rice in the air and pin dollars on the just-married. I’ll scarf up the delicious mole or birria and gulp down another free glass of red wine. Cheers! ¡Felicidades! ¡Viva el amor!

When it comes to my own life choices, though, I’ve always had a strong aversion to marriage. As a girl, I often stomped around my parent’s home thinking, “Shit! I’m never getting married!” The culture and media around me continuously equated female happiness with white weddings and children, but I didn’t buy it. This was mainly due to witnessing the oppression of women in my family. Not all Mexican families are the same. Mine, however, was marked by generations of patriarchy, where women were abused, abandoned, and “robadas” (as in “se la robó”). In my world, women who got married seemed doomed to suffer. No, thank you, I wasn’t signing up for that job.

When I was 17, I got accepted to a private, liberal arts college in LA. I would be the first in my family to attend college, but instead of celebrating, my immigrant parents freaked. Why did I need to leave home and live in a dorm? A woman was not to leave home until she married (by the church y en un vestido blanco). But I’m never getting married, I explained to my parents, exasperated. Does that mean I’m stuck here forever?

Living in a dorm seemed preposterous to my father, who forbade my sisters and I to sleep over anyone’s house. Daughters had to be constantly watched (somewhere beneath the fear of “living in a dorm” was the fear of sexual freedom). Si te vas de esta casa ya no tienes padre. ¡Estás muerta! my father said, banging his fist on the kitchen table. ¡Muerta! It was overly dramatic, like a scene from a bad telenovela. His antiquated threat also held no power; to be rid of the overbearing patriarch was my dream. I packed my few belonging and fled to college, where true to my father’s predictions many wonderful sexual things happened. Thank you, higher education!

In college, I read a wonderful essay by Judy Brady entitled “I Want a Wife.” It’s a powerful, sarcastic and humorous essay from the 1970’s about the oppression of women within the institution of marriage. I never forgot that essay because for the first time ever I felt my repulsion to marriage validated in literature. Who out there doesn’t want their repulsions validated? Of course, Brady was criticizing the heteronormative institution of marriage from a middle-class White perspective, but the hub of what she says in regards to inequality in marriage crosses racial and class lines. Brady’s essay also encouraged my loathing for the word “Wife.” I have never understood why queers, even the most radical among them, use this word to identify themselves or their partners. All connotations and politics aside, I find the word incredibly bland. It’s on the top of my Blah Words list. At least in Spanish the word is more phonetically pleasing—esposa. But if you add an “s” to the end—esposas—the word also means handcuffs. Hmmm…

Maritza singing, "We're NOT going to the Chapel"
The day of the Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Pro 8 just happened to coincide with another queer occasion--my anniversary with my beloved prince charming, Maritza. Because I give a hoot about civil rights and I believe having the right to choose is of utmost importance, I fisted the air on June 26th and gave a little celebratory hoot. Yay, Go Gay! Considering the homophobic global reality of our time, it’s difficult to deny the Supreme Court decisions as landmark victories for the LGBT community. I’m thinking of places like Uganda, where being gay can be punishable by life imprisonment (the infamous “Kill the Gays Bill” originally included the death penalty for those engaging in homosexual conduct).

And yet, despite the landmark victories, I felt vaguely numb on that historic day. FB posts read “It’s a sad day to be single and queer” and “We can FINALLY get married,” and “Now, I just have to find a good wifey.” Really? I don’t want to rain on anyone’s queer parade; it’s my parade too. Perhaps my lack of jubilation was partly due to the previous day’s Supreme Court ruling on Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which previously protected against voting discrimination.

Or perhaps, I thought of all the undocumented immigrants in our nation and the bogus immigration reform bill currently being pushed by the “Gang of 8.” The striking down of section 3 in DOMA may help some of these undocumented immigrants, but it is no replacement for comprehensive immigration reform and it potentially renders these undocumented queers vulnerable and dependent, tethering them to the institution of marriage. Is this the only way we can become “legal”? That sucks.

Or maybe it’s the rampant backlash against women’s rights. I’m referring to the state by state extremist measures to restrict a woman’s right to choose. These same GOP and Tea Party Republicans are the same people who have so vigorously defended the sacred heterosexual institution of marriage. Now that the legal definition of marriage is expanding, many queers are rushing to the altars to get a piece of the wedding cake so long denied by the dominant culture.

This queer, though, is suspiciously eyeing “marriage equality.” Although I love Maritza, I have no desire to have my relationship sanctioned by either Church or State. Yes, there are rights we want and deserve. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to have equal rights and health insurance for everyone regardless of marital status? The right to marry also doesn’t necessarily equate with equality. My life isn't going to change dramatically. It won’t stop my homophobic neighbors from maddogging us. It won’t stop the converted Christians in our families from condemning us. We’ll still “burn in hell” according to them. Laws don’t change hearts, after all. Depending also on where you live, your class, your color, your race, your immigration status, your gender, laws may or may not protect you. Take the slaying of Trayvon Martin and the not-guilty verdict just granted to his vigilante assassin Zimmerman. It’s a sad day in America indeed. And then again, it’s just another day in America. Happy equality everyone! Que viva el amor a la justicia.


Anonymous said...

To live with equality for all would indeed bring a great happiness. To feel that you can live without fear of profiling, that you have the right to live and love with true acceptance. To just feel that you belong and share all the same rights. I guess I'm still a hopeless romantic when it comes to love and a hopeful optimist when it comes to our world.
Blessings Olga. I wish you happiness and strength to do you.
Let's all hang in and move forward.

Ana said...

Wonderful. I never thought of marriage equality that way. Imagine what insight you can get in blogs no one really knows about. It's a shame, really. Facebook gets millions of hits a day, but there's not much worth reading and if it is, it's all incredibly underwhelming.

Thank you for writing this.
Ana Pérez