Graduation season is well underway. And I applaud those who are donning caps and gowns in this unpredictable weather. We are also at the beginning of the traditional wedding seasons, wherein our time at work will be spiced up by YouTube videos of newly married couples rocking the reception or toddlers getting it in on the dancefloor. Since we are also in the midst of a larger political debate about what the powers-that-be have decided to christen “marriage equality,” this wedding season may take on additional significance for many, as it may be legal for them in their own state to get hitched. Now, plenty has been said about the ideological problems with this fight, especially as it pertains to queer folks whose lives will not be better by being able to register for linens at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I won’t rehash that argument here. Instead, I’d like to wonder aloud, yet again, about what it means to identify with those who articulate the limits of “marriage equality” as a right worthy of pursuit, to understand that marriage is an incredibly fraught institution, and to jump that broom anyway.
Remember when all the folks who knew better supported Barack Obama’s re-election by saying, “Yes, he’s ______, but I’ma vote for him anyway?” Well, it seems to me that something similar is happening here. What I’ve been seeing lately is queer identified folk who celebrate whenever a(nother) state passes marriage equality or get crunk when their partner puts a ring on it, while supplying the additional information that they know what’s up. It’s as if some of them want you to know they still got street cred, like they want to remind anyone who will read a status update that, even though their bridal party number is at 60, they’re not about to go all will.i.am on us. Or, that even though they’re having a wedding that looks a lot like a lot of other weddings, their’s will be different some way, some how.
I understand the let me explain impulse. I really do. But here’s a suggestion: Stop.
Marriage is a powerful ritual. And I cannot think of another event that has a similar emotional effect on people. If it weren’t there wouldn’t be such passionate response on either side of the issue. There is power in symbol. That’s why they’re symbols. In some ways, it seems as if our politics cannot access the crevices where certain rituals lie. That it’s nearly impossible to scrape the emotional residue of certain, life-changing events we’ve been socialized to desire. So, it seems like it would actually be more honest to stop with the ideological gymnastics and simply say this: Marriage is fucked up, but I want to do it anyway. Not because of insurance or tax breaks or being able to see my boo in the hospital should the unfortunate occur, but because everything leading up to “I do” and thereafter is alluring as hell and hard to deny. Entire television networks have paid their employees by chronicling the wedding ritual; it would be absurd for us to pretend that we get all dressed up and proclaim our love for another in front of friends and family for dental and vision benefits.
And let’s be real: Everyone loves a good party. There are few moments that can gather friends and family in the way that a wedding does. I wore a dress for my sister and I will go to any wedding that I can because there is nothing like seeing cousins and other (chosen) family on joyous occasions. There will be line dances, there will be toasts. And there will be cakecakecakecakecake when it’s not even your birthday.
So let’s stop pretending that politics can alleviate us of our contradictions, that it can replace ritual. Ideological explanations for why we intend to do something we are generally against are ironically transparent piles of dirt on our paradoxical emotional desires. They are distractions, justifications we give others with hope that we can convince ourselves. And it’s nearly impossible to dig towards the truth when we attempt to deny its existence. Sometimes we’re just not as radical as we claim to be. So, if you and your boo are feeling froggy, then jump the broom. And be honest about the reason behind your leap. After all, we cannot replace symbols until will unpack the meaning of the ones we have.