It took me a while to say yes. Not in the minutes of my partner’s expressed love and commitment prefacing the “will you marry me,” but in the months prior, when marriage was more than a maybe in our conversations. I had a comfortable knowledge of what marriage looked like and an uncomfortable knowledge that it didn’t look like me, which made me question if I ever wanted to be married at all.
Marriage has been a cis straight club for a long time, celebrating relationships between men and women while erasing queer, trans, and non-binary identities. It’s a union that my partner and I didn’t even have legal rights to until one year ago. Even then, it was granted to us under designations like “gay” and “same sex” marriage instead of marriage. And still, there are people and places that don’t recognize my relationship as respectable or serious or true. Marriage is something I’m supposed to see as a gift, but it had to be pried from this country’s hands. Even in the moments when I feel pride in the success of finally being able to marry, it’s dampened by the fact that this recognition is coming from something entrenched in oppression.
In the U.S, marriage for same-sex couples was won with a face of assimilation: white people who appeal to the traditional, straight, cis, suburban married couple to win the hearts of conservatives who might find a glimmer of themselves in queer folks. We’re used to seeing the two cute, kempt fathers smiling with a small child on their shoulders or the two elderly women holding hands with a sign that proclaims that they’ve been together for 50 years. These are valuable and beautiful identities within the LGBTQ community, but they’ve become posters that cover over the angry queers, the trans activists, people with disabilities, and POC fighting for more than marriage.
My partnership looks like the cute, familiarly packaged marriage in a wedding magazine: two cis, white women, one more masculine than the other, a suit, and a dress. That’s part of who we are, and I’m in love with us, but I understand how the white, cis, binary washing of marriage normalizes an image that has little to do with LGBTQ struggle and personal identity, which is not something I love. There’s so much left to fight for and fight against: homelessness, suicide, murder, mental health, the justice system, and police brutality. While I see marriage as progress in equality, it’s still part of a system that disenfranchises and discriminates against LGBTQ folks in so many ways.
It makes me uncomfortable to become a part of something that has and continues to be used to hurt and debase queer and trans people. However, I’ve obviously reconciled some of the above as I’m sitting here, engaged to be married in 5 days.
Even after I said “yes” to my partner’s proposal, I didn’t know why. I sat at home the next day, confused and crying and writing. I recalled stories from Untangling the Knot and I Do, I Don’t, anthologies that helped so much in my search for queerness and beauty and challenging complexity within marriage. I didn’t announce the news to friends or family. I made a nest in my bed for me, my thoughts, my questions, and a ridiculous amount of sweets. When my partner came home, we sat in that nest with my thoughts and questions and candy wrappers. She listened and answered, and I said yes again.
I couldn’t say yes to the oppression and heteronormativity I associate with marriage, but I could say yes to my partner’s intricate friendship, evolving commitment, and mutual support. I could say yes to the innumerable months and years of thinking and questioning and shedding and moving forward together.
In the poetic recollections like that, it seems like romance replaced perspective, but it’s something I use as a bookmark, to place in the new pockets of our relationship. It’s in the engagement cock I gave her instead of a ring, it’s in the party we’re having with art and pizza and friends instead of a wedding, and most of all, it’s in the continual negotiations and evolution of our partnership. For some, that may not be enough: the beginning of this piece may still be burning in a way that singes any possibility of marriage, and that’s valid. For me, I decided that marriage can be reshaped; not in its entirety, but on a personal level, to fit our relationship a little better. I still struggle with how, taking on each question and milestone with a careful skepticism, wishing to craft a marriage that I identify with and that we feel welcome in.