I’m one of those dykes who was born queer. Almost from the beginning it was clear that little Sukey was on a collision course with the feminine mystique. By the time I was three, I had earned my creds as a militant tomboy. I refused to wear a dress. In kindergarten I even went so far as to sabotage a particularly hated garment by calmly dumping paint down my front, amazing my peers.
By the age of six, I had lost the dress wars but was quite certain that I would never, under any circumstances, get married. After all, every time I tried to fantasize about growing up and getting married, I drew a complete blank. And having babies? Definitely not! Pregnancy sounded like the period from hell. I didn’t want any part of it. Who needed a husband? I knew I would be supporting myself financially rather than looking to a man to take care of me. The whole marriage thing seemed totally irrelevant.
Then came the feminist and gay liberation movements of the 1970s and I learned that my personal struggle was actually a political struggle against systemic oppression — sexism. Somewhat later, alas, I also figured out that marriage is the main social institution tasked with enforcing sexism, by imposing gender roles, justifying slave wages for women and maintaining profound inequality between the sexes. Women are primarily responsible for raising and educating the children and performing domestic work. This is all vitally necessary from a social point of view, yet entirely unpaid, devalued and privatized labor.
It was only necessary to look at divorce proceedings to understand that marriage is fundamentally about property and has little to do with love. By the time I found myself in family court in California last year, having petitioned to dissolve my “domestic partnership” and worried that I might have to pay alimony, it hit me how married I had been. Almost by default, without realizing it, I had bought into the institution of matrimony and the property arrangements it imposes. How had this happened?
When I met my now-ex in the mid-1990s I had been practicing serial monogamy for many years with pretty much unsatisfactory results. What I wanted were the basics: a “life partner,” a sense of belonging, a family. I was ready to stop looking and build a committed relationship. When my ex wanted to finish her degree, it seemed practical to register as domestic partners, so that I could cover her under my health insurance plan at work. When domestic partnership rights were expanded, I remember telling straight coworkers, “I just want the same rights you all take for granted.”
In retrospect, it’s amazing how quickly we went from what I thought was a loving feminist partnership of equals to a “marriage” in which I, as the one who was working, was cast in the male role. I used to grumble that I had all the obligations of the guy minus male privilege!
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In 2003, new legislation was passed in California which required domestic partners to file for divorce in order to dissolve their unions. We could have opted out then, but who wants to introduce the delicate topic of divorce when you are in love? Besides weren’t we and others like us transforming and reinventing marriage in feminist, queer, radical terms? Unfortunately, we were the ones being transformed. Our ideals of equality, sisterhood and mutual support had been reduced to dependency, resentment, guilt and a mound of mutual debt.
I’ve always prided myself on my implacable resistance to a system that oppresses me on multiple fronts of gender and sexuality and class. You might say now I’ve come full circle and returned to my radical roots.
Frederick Engels had it right. In his revolutionary book, “The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State,” he traces the evolution of human society from a communal matriarchal system based on shared resources to patriarchy, based on male domination and the private accumulation of wealth. Engels’ deep understanding of female oppression is why I became a socialist feminist in the first place.
So, should gays be allowed to marry? Of course. It’s a civil rights issue. But let’s be real. Marriage, whether gay, straight or otherwise is a socially conservative institution and should not be the only or even the main goal of gay activists. Queers should stop trying to show straights we are just like them and supporting single-issue causes like wedlock. Instead we need to connect our struggle with other oppressed groups and fight for a world where all our rights are guaranteed. These days I’m committed to nothing less.
Sukey Wolf is a lifelong rabble-rouser for progressive rights, a veteran in the feminist and LGBT movements, and a happy gay divorcée. She writes for the Freedom Socialist newspaper at www.socialism.com
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