What I Learned from Being ‘Gay Married’

married-300x300Last July, my boyfriend Jesse and I moved in together. The next day, we went to New York City Hall and got “gay married” — that is, we became (heterosexual) domestic partners. We’re among the many straight couples who have become legally linked, mostly for health insurance and other practical reasons, since domestic partnership became an option in several states as the closest alternative to marriage for gay couples. Now that the Supreme Court is debating the legalities of full-fledged gay marriage, we’re also pondering whether we’ll “have to” get hitched to maintain our benefits, should national marriage equality become a reality. In fact, we know one couple who already got married after losing their health insurance coverage once New York legalized same-sex marriage.

 

Of course, we’re unequivocally in favor of marriage equality. But this lower “level” of commitment has been worth something in its own right to us — not just for the health benefits, but for the ways it helped us see exactly what we wanted from our relationship.

As wary 30-something New Yorkers, Jesse and I built our couplehood in careful, meticulously plotted, much-debated steps. Even the regular practice of spending the night at each other’s places was up for debate. (We’re really into having our own space and alone time.) We waited ten months before exchanging “I love you”s. We declared our reticence about marriage early and often. Eventually, sleepovers became a practical necessity as well as a key bonding experience. That “I love you” felt real and earned. We became domestic partners when we realized that said status would allow me to be on his health insurance and give us at least a chance of proving our standing with each other in the event of, say, a hospitalization or death. (Also: We can rent cars together without an extra fee!) Of course we wouldn’t have done it if the commitment level weren’t there, but we also wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t have reason to.

 

And marriage? We’re still saying only if we have to, though that seems like it’s possibly in our future.

 

That “only if we have to” attitude about each stage of our relationship has lent it a deliberate quality we both take comfort in. We’re analytical people. Call us cold commitmentphobes if you like, but investigating domestic partnership has given me a better understanding of marriage — and even, in a way, made it more romantic to me. What can I say? Having almost gotten married once before, having a say over each other’s do-not-resuscitate orders and sharing our assets without tax penalties sound far more romantic than picking out bridal bouquets and paying too much for cake. Here, a few things I’ve learned about marriage from being domestic partnered:

 

Domestic partnership is not marriage. We chose it as the simplest, quickest alternative so we could stop paying more than $600 per month for my COBRA health coverage. But no institutions arerequired to recognize domestic partners’ legal status; many companies simply choose to. Hospitals don’t have to give you a say in your partner’s care and the status doesn’t hold up in court for much. Marriage, in fact, instantly confers more than a thousand benefits and advantages to those who undertake it. Speaking of which …

 

People get married for good reason! I scoff at the gauzy, taffeta, compulsory nature of heterosexual life commitment. I resist its patriarchal underpinnings. But damn if married people don’t get a lot of great stuff! There are those thousand-plus rights, possible tax advantages (though you don’t always win by filing jointly, I’ve learned), massive legal simplifications if things go badly, and gifts! We have a decent income as successful professionals, but we’d get our new apartment in order faster if we could register.

 

Divorce is a bitch. Obviously it would be emotionally draining to split up from the person you thought was the love of your life — I truly have a hard time entertaining the idea of someday living without Jesse. But I also know how life goes, and I’m a staunch realist. Having watched others go through New York’s divorce process, complete with a year-long cooling-off period before making it official, I am not eager to participate. So far, this difficulty has served as the main impediment to any marriage plans for us. That’s why I love the ideas that have been floated, at least in theoretical circles, for more sweeping marriage reform than just allowing for gay couples. “Temporary marriage,” “group marriage,” and easier divorces are among them, as this New York Times piece points out. I particularly like the idea of making civil unions the nationally recognized form, and letting people figure out privately what “marriage” is to them.

 

Weddings are at least part of the problem with marriage. A Marie Claire piece even showed thatmore couples are simply getting “permanently engaged” as a way to show their commitment without dealing with all the tulle. I understand the allure of that arrangement, though it strikes me as self-defeating. You’re doing this to demonstrate your commitment to the world, to ask society to recognize your status as a couple, but it seems all a permanent engagement would invite is people constantly haranguing you about when the big day is. I dragged my own ill-fated engagement out, so I know. I personally prefer either going through with marriage or taking a stand against it. For Jesse and me, just figuring out that we don’t need a big white ceremony made us consider marriage more seriously. When he came up with the idea that we could have a small ceremony at our Zen Buddhist temple, wearing our black robes, with vows given by our teacher, that had me pondering a wedding seriously for the first time since I swore off marriage. And who knows? Maybe someday it will happen — if we have to, and we want to.

Translating Female Pop Stars’ Quotes on Feminism

beyonce-092211-12-187x300The media likes to ask female pop stars about feminism. A lot. In fact, for some reason, young female singers are bombarded with this question so much that it has become its own news category. When someone like Taylor Swift or Beyonce answers the question, “Are you a feminist?”, the Internet blows up with critique. There never seems to be a right answer.

There’s a problem in both the phrasing of the question and also in these women’s comprehension of it. The media, particularly certain feminist blogs, are looking for provocative discourse and celebrities are easy targets. (Feministing subtly calls this an“annoying conversation.”) But it’s more than that. It’s problematic not only because it makes women the targets of scorn by other women, but also overlooks the bigger forces at work behind the entertainment industry that promote a patriarchal business structure and overwhelmingly value female artists for their sexuality rather than their talent.

These young women (and they are always young when they get this question for the first time) are not thinking about what it means to be a feminist at the exact moment a reporter points her microphone at them and asks them to identify with something they’re not quite sure of yet. They are not dumb, but perhaps they haven’t yet evolved into their feminist identities. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay, even for someone righteously living like a feminist without knowing it yet.

Beyonce, of course, is front and center in this conversation. Whether she’s taking charge of her own business, hiring an all-female band, talking about the injustices of unequal pay between the sexes, or writing anthems of female empowerment that will be with us for generations, it’s hard to argue against Beyonce as a feminist. She’s a goddamned feminist icon. But, yes, she did once call feminism “bootylisciousness.” And, yes, she did put a “Mrs.” on her latest tour name. And she’s famously avoided the term feminist throughout her otherwise super-feminist career.

A new interview in British Vogue asks Beyonce the feminist question again and this is what she says: “That word can be very extreme… I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality.” She also says she feels more powerful and fearless than ever and goes on to argue a very important issue facing modern feminism today: “Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are?”

There is no one (or right) way to be a feminist. And it’s that misunderstanding that fuels these young women’s misguided answers to the feminist-or-not question. And as more famous ladies avoid the term, more young ones will follow suit. Changing the perception of the label “feminist” and the feminist movement itself (the ambitious goals of this website and our new book, Sexy Feminism) is what we should all work on. If young pop stars are not sure of what the term even means, of course they’re going to avoid it.

But what if they did know? Here’s how their answers to this question might translate:

Beyonce: “[The word feminist] can be very extreme. I guess I am a modern-day feminist.”

Translation: “I am a modern-day feminist!” Hooray, the most powerful woman in pop music identifies with the movement that is still necessary to change the inequities facing women today. This is something to celebrate, not ridicule. Today’s feminism doesn’t look like the feminism of two generations ago because it doesn’t have to.

Taylor Swift: “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”

Translation: “I grew up the product of two generations of feminism doing hard work so that I don’t feel less than my male peers.” The non-defeatest attitudes of young women today are powerful things. We shouldn’t stomp on them—this is what feminism has been working towards for so long! What’s missing from Swift and her peers is a bit of historical perspective and understanding of their privilege of confidence. If we can make them see feminism as relevant and cool, we can change that.

Katy Perry: “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.”

Translation: “I am at the top of the music game because I worked hard. I believe other women can do this, too. All of us women rule.” Katy has some work to do in the feminist-cred department, but she is in a powerful position in our culture because of feminism. Getting her to see that could change a lot.

There is hope for these young women—and all those on their way up sure to encounter the “feminist?” question. For proof, just look at Lady Gaga. When she first gave an “I’m not a feminist, but…” quote she was in her early twenties and new to the incredible fame that had taken over her life. It took just a few months for her to start talking in feminist terms and identifying with the label. More importantly, she started living it. Gaga is an activist as much as she is a rock star. She’s made it her mission to give voice to the voiceless, particularly young gay, trans, and bi people through her Born This Way Foundation. She talked about the importance of sex education and contraception; and when she posted these photos online, she put herself in the center of the body-hatred dialogue that surrounds all famous women. She did it for the sake of all women. She evolved quickly and purposefully, which is what Beyonce, Taylor, and (hopefully) Katy are doing as well. Let’s let them grow.

Empowering Afghan Women

witw-logo-300x30Women in Afghanistan still suffer some of the worst gendered conditions in the world: forced marriages, lack of education, and conditions far beyond anything we can encapsulate in even those awful-sounding soundbites. One of our favorite organizations works to empower women there through fostering and publishing their writing about their lives, the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Another idea: Giving women there economic power by fostering sales of their crafts. Read more at The Daily Beast’s Women in the World.


 

Feminism Through Art: Meet Hangama Amiri

03_HAmiri_The-Wind-Up-Dolls-300x300Looking at the painting, “Girl Under the Taliban,” (left) by Hangama Amiri is like being slapped across the face with a reality check. In it, a young woman sears a determined stare into the viewer’s mind with one eye while the other burns with fire. She’s clutching a textbook in one hand and a burqa in the other. It assaults you with its literal message of oppression, but confounds even more with its rich complexity. It’s the story of Nargis, a 13-year-old Afghan girl banned from seeking education under the Taliban. It is not a unique story, but it’s one that isn’t being told nearly enough.

“Girl” is the third in the series, “The Wind-Up Dolls of Kabul,” by artist Hangama Amiri. She has made it her mission to tell stories about Afghan women through her work.

Amiri could have had the same story as Nargis–or one much worse. Her family fled Afghanistan in 1996 when the Taliban took over. She spent several years as a refugee and finally settled in Canada, where she went to college, became an artist in residence and began her career. “The Wind-Up Dolls” series is Amiri’s first solo exhibition and has come to define her feminist identity as well as the arc of her artistic vision.

She talks to Sexy Feminist about her inspirations, the concept of feminism in Afghanistan, and the way art is an important part of the global discourse on the treatment of women.


 

Link of the Day: Afghan Women’s Lives in Prison