This is a excerpt from my book Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution. If you like this text, please consider buying a copy.
Fuck marriage, fuck equality
For about a decade, same sex marriage has been the flagship issue of the GGGG movement*. Marketed as the single-issue battle which would bring equality and solve GGGG-phobia for all, it has been the main focus of GGGG activist and political effort. The struggle for same sex marriage has been presented to us as a struggle for full equality and citizenship. We are told that the one step separating between us – “the gays” – and perfect rainbow utopia is the ability to register our same sex relationships with the state**. As soon as this right is won, apparently, we’ll be all able to walk away into the sunset.
But before we start with the walking away, we first need to examine what it is that we are asking. Marriage, as an institution, has been a tool of patriarchy, capitalism, and government for about as long as it’s existed. It’s been used to control women, divide and consolidate money and resources, and to strengthen the power of states over their subjects. All in all, for most of history and to this day, it has been one of the most dangerous institutions created by society.
At its very base, marriage is a patriarchal institution. Its goal is to decide and maintain male ownership and control of women, transferring the woman from her father to her husband. A dash of linguistics might be enlightening here, as the original meaning of the word husband relates to husbandry – ownership of land and animals***, while one of original meanings of wife is “bitch” and contains a root indicating shame. Last names are also relevant here, as even today most women in minority world cultures**** bear the names of their fathers, their husbands or a combination of both.
Most violence perpetrated against women, as well as children, happens within heteronormative families. Intimate violence, sexual violence, spousal rape, spousal murder, incest, violence against children, and economic violence are only some of the horrors that marriage is designed to contain. This is all the more relevant to bisexual women, since studies indicate that they have an elevated risk for experiencing intimate violence.
This happens because the man is considered the head and owner of the family, and thus as entitled to treat his “property” in any way that he sees fit. Not so long ago, all of these things were also perfectly legal in most minority world countries. For example, up until 1993, spousal rape was a legal act in most US States. To this day, even though they are illegal, these phenomena are considered as minor and marginal, especially when compared to other issues, such as theft, drug use or “illegal” immigration. This is despite the fact that each of the issues mentioned above, and certainly all put together, happen more frequently, and influence more people than the ones just listed.
But even if one’s particular marital arrangement doesn’t include any form of violence, marriage still constitutes symbolic violence against women in and on itself. This is a structure meant to secure women’s unpaid labor on behalf of men. When a woman enters a marriage, she also enters a presumed and unspoken contract – but one she has been trained for all her life. She is to be her husband’s cook, cleaner, psychologist, personal assistant, secretary and sex worker, to bear him children and be their caretaker, educator, nurse, entertainer, driver and a handful of other jobs. No matter what a married woman does in her life outside marriage – career, education, social life, hobbies and any other pursuit – at the end of the day she is expected to begin the proverbial “second shift,” serving the family in their home. That many women do this willingly and gladly still doesn’t change the point – this is their designated role within the marital structure, whether one wants to or not.
In addition to perpetrating violence against women, heteronormative families are also one of the most difficult sites in the lives of queers and trans people (especially youth). The lack of acceptance that so many of us experience from our families often also turns into homelessness, physical and sexual violence, punishment, imprisonment at home, and conversion treatments. Even for those whose parents avoid direct violence, surviving inside the family often means keeping secrets, avoiding trust, being isolated and distant. It also means having to deal with our parents’ and relatives’ disappointment at “how we turned out,” having to constantly navigate the shifting balance between wanting to please our parents and wanting to live our lives, and knowing that the two will often contradict. This, too, is one of the functions of marriage: Making sure that the children raised within them will follow the same straight path.
Yet another function of marriage is the maintenance of capitalism. Marriage is a financial contract, deciding who gets what and how much. Up until very recently, and in many cases still, it’s a means to allocate money and possessions between men through- and on the backs of- women. Marriage determines lines of succession. It also pools up the money for the those who have it, making sure that it doesn’t gets distributed to others who do not. In other cases, marriage is used to consolidate money and possessions, or to exchange status with money and vice versa. Since most people marry within their class as well as race, marriage keeps capital, status and privilege concentrated in one place while ensuring that it doesn’t “leak out.”
As mentioned above, marriage also functions as a tool for financial exploitation of women’s labor. In this way, money doesn’t have to be “lost” on paid services, and men can reap the benefits both materially and financially. Notwithstanding, marriage also maintains the capitalist yoke around men’s necks by expecting them to be the main financial supporters of the family. In this way, men are pressured into being productive, earning citizens, while enslaving their lives to their jobs (albeit for the benefit of increased financial gain and status).
Marriage is also used as an instrument of control by the state and government. Dividing its subjects into minimal units keeps people as separate from one another as possible. This goes in particular for minority world countries and white populations, where one’s family only includes the nuclear unit. Minimizing communities in this way makes it harder for people to oppose the state or government, keeping it safe from civil uprisings. In addition, heteronormative families serve as a convenient production units, manufacturing productive citizens, workers for the capitalist system and soldiers for the military (through the bodies of women). The role of families in producing these types of functions in people is critical, because families are responsible for the education of their young. Indeed, most people learn to love and serve their governments first and foremost within their families, through “educational values” such as patriotism, nationalism, militarism and capitalism.
Seeing as such, it is unsurprising that states and governments place such high value on marriage. Marriage and heteronormative families are in many ways necessary for their “proper” function – maintaining patriarchy, capitalism and government itself. It only makes sense, then, that states would want to privilege those who comply with the system while punishing those who do not. The many privileges granted to married couples by the state serve as a reward for their compliance, withholding those privileges from those who do not serves as their punishment for disobedience.
As we can see, then, marriage is a useful institution for upholding oppressive structures. It’s not, however, very good for most people. For this reason, among other things, a huge cultural apparatus exists for the sole sake of convincing us to get married. From legal privileges through romantic comedies and dating shows to wedding ceremonies and social treatment, almost every piece of dominant culture relating to relationships and love is pushing us in this one direction. I often wonder: If all these things were nonexistent, would people want to get married at all?
Our culture being what it is, however, marriage is one of the biggest entry tickets to the heart of the mainstream. Because it plays such a huge role in the maintenance of several oppressive systems, it is also granted enormous value by the same systems. To be married is to be a proper citizen, a mature adult and a productive part of society. As mentioned above – compliance with the system is rewarded, while disobedience is punished. It only makes sense, then, that a movement such as the GGGG, whose ultimate goal is to be accepted into the mainstream, should want to take such a direct path.
But in taking this straight path to the mainstream, the GGGG movement also pays a dear price: It reinforces the very structures that work against it and that oppress many others. In choosing this struggle, the GGGG movement has made a choice. It chose to prioritize the needs and values of the privileged on account of everyone else. It chose to validate the mainstream and to “redeem” itself from marginalization by reinforcing its values. Instead of fighting to bring these structures down, the GGGG movement chose to fight in pursuit of the exclusive privileges that these structures offer.
The struggle for same sex marriage leaves behind almost everyone who isn’t already privileged. People with more urgent needs than marriage are neglected from the resources and activist efforts of the GGGG movement. GGGG organizations spend many millions of dollars on the struggle for marriage, while organizations addressing the issues of queer and trans homelessness youth, HIV positive queers, queers of color, queers in poverty, queer survivors of violence, and many others, suffer from a constant lack of money and resources.
Some claim that for many of these populations, legalizing same sex marriage is the very path to justice, as the governmental marriage package includes so many economic and other privileges. But as long as these privileges continue being distributed only to married people, the problem will remain. Marriage will continue to be used as the carrot with which to divide and conquer populations, keeping people under control. Same sex marriage will not help the ones who cannot or will not get legally married. It will not solve poverty, it will not solve violence, it will not open borders or keep people out of imprisonment. Instead of fighting for universal rights for everyone – or indeed the abolition of government control – the fight for same sex marriage reinforces the oppression of all those who are left outside.
In addition, whole LGBT populations get thrown overboard from the struggle in fear that they might “tar” the clean and normal image which is the GGGG movement is trying to present. Bisexuals, trans and genderqueer people, queers of color, disabled queers, and many others are among the first to get tossed away in sight of the golden promise of assimilation into the system. Since the struggle is based on access to privilege, and similarity to the privileged, it only makes sense that those who cannot fit also do not get to enter.
Specifically in the case of bisexuals, it is necessary to erase us from the struggle because we fail to fit in with heteronormativity, or indeed homonormativity. The promiscuous and traitorous image of bisexuals is likely to cause difficulties for the struggle. As GGGG’s try to rid themselves of the “dangerous” specter of gay cruising, casual sex and other deliciously indecent spectacles, bisexuality looms around the corner to return all of this and more back into the picture.
In this way, by supporting the GGGG struggle for same sex marriage, bi activists participate in bisexual erasure on several levels: First of all, they choose the maintenance of the systems that oppress them, instead of fighting those systems. Second, they prioritize privileged GGGG issues over more burning issues suffered by bisexuals. Third, they participate in the bisexual erasure performed by the GGGG movement for the sake of appearing “normal” to the mainstream public. Lastly, as explained in chapter 1, they reinforce the same values of normalcy, and police bi people who do not comply with the normative image.
To conclude, the struggle for sex same marriage is a conservative struggle whose ultimate goal is gaining entry into the heteronorm. As such, it chooses to reinforce oppressive structures by agitating for access into them and the privilege that they hold. As a struggle concerned with norms and privileges, it also excludes and throws overboard anyone who fails to fit into a clean GGGG replica of the “normal.” It also diverts money, resources and activist energy from issues that are far more urgent and queer populations who are much more in need. Rather than participating in this disaster of a struggle, bisexuals and all other queers need to oppose both this struggle, and the oppressive structures that it seeks to reinforce. Instead of earning “rights” and aspiring for “equality,” we should agitate for liberation and aspire for a revolution.
* The GGGG movement is the Gay, Gay, Gay and Gay movement (also known as the “LGBT” movement).
** Writing “sex” and not “gender” is deliberate. Being rigidly cissexist, what matters to this legal proposal is the sex one as been assigned at birth.
*** The connection between women’s oppression and the oppression of animals is too broad for elaboration here. I encourage my readers to learn more about this topic. You can start here.
**** Minority world refers to North America and Western Europe, i.e. white or “Western” cultures.
17 thoughts on “Fuck marriage, fuck equality”
I love this, very well said.
Thank you! And thanks for the reblog!
Reblogged this on The Femmetastic Feminist.
This is kind of cynical considering there are many happy well balanced marriages but I agree with many of your points
doesn’t your definition of marriage border on essentialism? “At its very base, marriage is a patriarchal institution. ” True in many senses, but the meaning of any symbolic structure is equivocal. i.e. its meaning is situational. maybe we should make a distinction between mainstream marriage and alternative marriages (i.e. polyamorous, open, etc.). certainly marriage has been used as a tool of power in the past, but anachronism can radically change its meaning. don’t mean to disagree, cause overall you make important points.
I agree that meanings and power are situational, and that they do change. I also agree that there’s room for complicating the idea of marriage, viewing it as more disperse or varied, than as a sort of unilateral force operated on people without subtlety or ability to resist. Indeed, I think a lot of people can make “small resistances” to the heteropatriarchal power of marriage even when they’re inside it. But – and that’s a really strong but – I intentionally did not want to get in those subtleties, because I didn’t want to allow my readers any room to feel that nothing actually needs to change. People generally take any such opportunity in a text, magnify it and embrace it. People will take any chance of giving themselves a break, of feeling like maybe something “out there” is bad or negative, but everything’s actually peachy in their lives, and that there’s nothing they need to change – and this is something I don’t want them to have the opportunity to do. I try to make people feel uncomfortable so they could take a hard look at their own lives and examine things critically. If people feel comfortable, they would not do that.
I dig. Keep it up. I think a lot of people are afraid of that sort of uncomfortable feeling (an uncanny feeling?), and that heteronormativity functions by reproducing that fear and also by denying that it exists, or by pathologizing it in other ways. That fear and the truth of what its a response to is always there beneath the surface though. Face it and fear turns to awareness. For me nothing seems more natural than to critique my own knowledge and assumptions. Unfortunately most people are reluctant to challenge the mainstream “knowledge” of sex, a reluctance essential to the maintenance of power.
At age 19 both my girlfriend (bisexual) and myself (also bisexual) were kicked out of an LGBU meeting and then ostricized by our gay and lesbian peers. I am now 41 and have dated gay and bisexual men, and straight and bi woman. I am now dating a bi woman again. And in reflection of a long journey, I look back in horror as to how I have been treated by some gay people and some straight people. I feel thrown overboard as you have stated by the GGGG movement. And realize only in retrospect the support I have needed, my feelings of isolation from the greater queer community – my feelings of never quite belonging. I feel actually disgusted by my perpetual erasure. The thing I continue to ask is how can it be different?