Ballot initiatives determining the future of marriage equality loom in Maine, Maryland, and Washington, while Minnesotans will vote on banning gay marriage in their state. In these difficult times, Madwoman with a Laptop (formerly known as The Typist at Roxie’s World) has posted yet another eloquent essay on the topic: “The Unbearable Weirdness of Being Voted On.”
Literate folk will be reminded of a famous essay that begins with this passage:
Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.
I must admit that sometimes when I am with heterosexual people who want to discuss the slow march toward equal rights, my queer soul seizes just a little bit. Please don’t take it personally if you notice. It means I am suffering the transformation from subject to object that occurs when I am discussing a lifetime of queer choices and dilemmas as if they were occurring in someone else’s life.
I can’t help it. Even though I have accomplishments, money, a home, friends and a job, I actually know that the laws my life depends on are only a ballot initiative away, that other people’s feelings and insecurities about their straight families are widely perceived as justification for limiting the resources and rights available to my queer family.
Whether I am the object of disdain or the object of kindness, I can’t help feeling that, when we talk about those homophobic people over there, you know, “those” people in VirginiaTexasNorthDakotaFloridaSouthCarolinaOklahomaIdaho, a barrier comes up between gay and straight that we can’t really discuss. I just have to endure the conversation until I can find a way to change the subject.
What is that barrier, you ask? It’s the barrier of rights — the ones you have and the ones I don’t. Maybe you never asked for them, maybe you sincerely want me to have them, but the point is that you have them. And I don’t.
And you do.
In her post, Madwoman reports on the strangeness, not just of having one’s civil rights on the ballot, but also her own queer observation that her fellow citizens will go to the polls to cast a vote on “her very humanity. Oh, well, you know, that’s what happens when one’s fellow citizens — neighbors, friends, coworkers, and relatives as well as millions of strangers — hold one’s rights in the palms of their kind or unkind hands.”
Indeed. Of course we who are, as Madwoman puts it, opposed to marriage but in favor of marriage equality, are so used to this that it takes a keen observer like the Former Typist to point this out. If life is a series of choices for everyone, queer life is a series of queer choices, of evasions, of making do, of coping with anxiety and with limitations. For example:
- Knowing that getting the “family rate” for auto insurance is a matter of queer choice on behalf of the agent I got randomly, a choice typed in because of her sympathy for the inequity of our situation, and something that can be typed out in a heartbeat by an unsympathetic agent. You will then have the choice of sticking to your guns and paying a higher rate, or putting the car in one person’s name and pretending that the other person is legally your….roommate. Or houseguest.
- Knowing that it is my queer choice to live in one of six states where GLBT rights are broadly recognized, rights that include marriage should we ever require its protections. On the other hand, I really feel I have no other choice about where to live since these are the only states where, as Madwoman puts it, my humanity has any standing. There are currently nineteen states where I can never live or work because they put our small household at extreme economic risk, and inhibit our ability to take care of each other. These states prohibit gay marriage, civil unions and legal arrangements that simulate marriage. This means that every bit of economic and legal protection I get and give to my life partner in this state and the last state where we resided would be void. In these state, we cannot serve as legal proxies for each other and cannot grant each other hospital visitation. Because neither of us could offer the other health insurance coverage through our jobs, and national health care is in a precarious infancy, we could be bankrupted by illness and denied healthcare altogether. We would be legal strangers to each other in all respects. I have no effective right to work in those states (which include Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, all homes to high-ranking, otherwise attractive, universities and colleges.) Ergo, I queerly choose never to even apply and suffer the burden of all of those apologetic faces in university HR who would tell me what kinds of compensation they can’t offer.
- Knowing that as long as DOMA (the federal law that prohibits legal recognition of our small family) lasts, even if I were to gay marry in the state where I live, this would result in paying one tax rate at the state and local level and another tax rate at the federal level. Furthermore, should one of us die suddenly the other will be taxed on money and property that already belongs to her. How queer are those choices?
- Knowing that the vast number of people out there who vote against marriage equality seem to believe that I can unchoose any of the above by abandoning my partner of almost three decades and “choosing” a man. Which would somehow be more of an exercise in “personal responsibility” than how I live now.
Oh what times we live in. Why are our rights on the ballot? In that case, why not let the Taliban vote on whether women should go to school?