Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Linguistics are SO gay...

I'm a bit of a word junkie. My career is all about words - the connection, the physicality, the movement, the meaning, the biology - and how to use them. My dad said, "He's a cowboy and a braggadocio!" last night, in reference to the guy at Office Depot attempting to fix my sister's insanely sick computer. I probably spent at least 20 minutes trying to think of circumstances and perfect moments in which to say "braggadocio!" This is my idea of fun.

Anyway, in case you're living in a cave at the bottom of Loch Ness, and didn't read about it *everywhere* - California has re-opened the door for gay marriage. Hooray! And while everyone's (like my glittering generalizations?) talking about the legal, political, and religious ramifications, what we're not talking about - are words.

A few years ago, the word "marriage" was all anyone could talk about. The (mostly) Conservative standpoint being that "unions" or "partnerships" were okay for homosexual couples, but not "marriage." Marriage, just as a word, it was argued, is sacred to the joining of one man and one woman. Fun Fact: The history of marriages covers all manner of business deals, including swapping a (virgin) woman for chattel, land, money, birthright, etc. etc. That doesn't sound holy and sacred to me. That sounds like a bargaining agreement.

But there's an issue, says the Left, with "Domestic Partnership" and "Civil Unions." Now we're going back to different drinking fountains and bathrooms - the separate-but-equal lie. This is one of my favorite videos dealing with this issue:

"I want to commitment ceremony you..." Kind of says it all, no?

The pro-Prop 8 people and their likes have been denying words to the GLBT community as a way to keep us separate ... different ... remaining in the "other" category, because if we're something "other," then we're not like everyone else - "human," or "normal."  And what about other touchy words? "Wife, husband, mother, step-mother, father, step-father" - words for family? How do they fit in?

My uncle sent me this wonderful letter that addresses this question. This is why the words matter. This is why the myth of separate-but-equal won't cut it as we move forward, and why it's *never* going to cut it for any minority. When Liz and I get married, I will have a wife. I will have a sister and brother-in-law, I will have a mother and father-in-law. And she'll have that too (and more, because I have a pretty big clan). And we'll be family. Words have power.

From the Daily Dish article by Andrew Sullivan:

A reader writes:

I found this piece of yours very moving, and I want to add to the conversation on gay marriage my perspective as a child raised by a gay couple (a "homogenate" as I call us, for short) in the U.S. in the 1980s.
If I had been born in the '90s or the '00s in the right state instead of the '80s, perhaps my biological mother and her lover, Mollie, could have had a civil union. That would have made their relationship simpler from a legal standpoint, for sure. But still, what would I have told my friends who came over after school and asked innocently: "Why does that woman live with you?"
Would I have felt better telling them that she is my mom's "domestic partners" instead of the usual routine: blushing, averting my eyes and blurting out "She's my mom's friend" or "Uhh ... she just lives with us" before frantically changing the topic.
Even if I was a pedantic 9-year-old willing to explain to my friends what a civil union is and how it is the legal equivalent to the (first or second) marriage of my friends' parents, that still doesn't address the fundamental problem in my opinion: Mollie could be my mom's friend, my mom's domestic partner, my mom's lover -- but she could never be myanything. She could never be my stepmother.
Family names are generic things -- mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and all their step-incarnations. It is the possessive that creates intimacy and a sense of family. And while our family would have had the same strains as any step-family even in the best of circumstances, I have no doubt that she and I would be closer today if I had grown up calling her and thinking of her as "mine" in some sense -- even when I was angry with her, or I missed my father, or, yes, when I wished that she was just gone and my family was normal.
Let me add something that I experienced as well. My in-laws have always been supportive and loving and tolerant. They accepted me at Christmas and other occasions and were glad their son had found a partner. But it was not until we told them that we were "engaged" that something suddenly clicked. They finally had a way to understand us and our love because they had the linguistic architecture to make sense of it. I was going to be their son-in-law! With those words. I became family - not Aaron's friend, or roommate or boyfriend or lover or what-have-you. But his husband. And thereby their family as well.
There was and is something about these words - engaged, married, husband - even though they may contain a mountain of different experiences, that made us a family. I think conservatives should favor the unification and mutual love and support of families. And that means they must by definition favor the mutual love and support of the gay people in them.
This is not about creating something new. It is about making a home for people who have been here all the time for centuries. It is about making the human family whole.
"It is about making the human family whole." 

Why would anyone want to stop that??


Phoenix said...

People are afraid because they love the word "exclusive."

I think proponents of Prop 8 feel that if marriage isn't exclusive, but rather inclusive, of just about anyone who's in love these days, my lord, the standards of marriage would surely plummet. All our lives, we are told to separate ourselves from everyone else with quaint attitudes of moral superiority and entitlement. Marriage is blessed because it doesn't belong to EVERYONE - if it did then that wouldn't make it very blessed, now would it? Isn't blessed about being special, choosing some but not others, giving some an advantage over the uncured masses?

Why else would straight people who are already married feel their own marriage is being threatened? It's not because for every gay couple that gets married, a straight couple is forced to get divorced; it's because the exclusivity of the practice dies a little each time it's proved that everyone has such a right. People don't want marriage as a right - they want it as a privilege. A privilege that can be denied to others who are not like them.

Most of humanity cannot function on a level of all inclusiveness - we separate and sort and identify each other and ourselves by race, sex, accent, sports team, etc so that we can feel privileged, entitled, and so that we can deny others that same feeling of belonging. After all, if everyone belongs to the same club but they're all different from each other...

Then how the hell are we supposed to be able to label ourselves?

For most, that's the scariest thought of all.

Phoenix said...

Another super long comment FTW!

jennifer from pittsburgh said...

This all sums it up beautifully! My mother always warned me growing up that words hold power, and they do.

Kristin Quinn said...

Fear. Fear of what is not traditional. I guess? I like your "fun fact." Next time I am discussing the issue with someone with ultra conservative views I will remember that.