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Yes, I know I’ve kind of abandoned ship lately.  But never fear, I shall return!  I only have a month left of law school so I’m hunkering down and then joyously returning to blogging.

That said, I really wanted to get a quickie out there for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which is focusing on transphobia this year.  I thought this was particularly appropriate for me personally, because in the past year I’ve been thinking a lot about gender identity and am very thirsty at this point to learn more.

Though I was always conscious of the “T” in LGBT, I think I’ve spent a lot of time being at least partially transphobic, and very trans-ignorant.  The Global Arc of Justice conference really helped me understand how broad the fight for transgender rights is, though, and some personal acquaintances as well as some books I read helped clarify what gender identity is really about.  There are a lot of different ways to experience gender – it isn’t just male, female, FTM, or MTF.  Some people identify entirely as their “destination gender” after transition, and don’t want to be referred to in any other way.  Some identify strongly as transmen or transwomen.  Some prefer something more fluid, and don’t identify as trans but rather as genderqueer or something similar.  Some go from being a “straight male” to a lesbian, some from “straight female” to straight male, some stay bisexual or pansexual the whole way through.  Though I don’t think our society has very many set-in-stone stereotypes about gender identity, because we tend to simply cover up the variations, it’s definitely a bigger world than I initially thought, and it’s important to recognize these differences when thinking about discrimination, rights, and/or the law.

There have been some great steps in the law lately, perhaps most notably the House’s passage of the Matthew Shepard Act (c’mon, Senate!)  A lot of people think of this as a hate crimes bill to protect gay and lesbian people, and it does expand our protection, but actually we’ve already got a lot of it.  Trans and intersex folks have nada.  So this law would be a great step, but at the same time, there are a lot of things that need to happen that aren’t happening.  We need to educate ourselves about gender and not be afraid to discuss it, to ask questions, to teach our kids about different gender identities.  We need to educate law enforcement (big time).  And those of us who don’t really understand need to ask, read, educate ourselves, and become activists.  We also need to learn to listen.  I think a lot of people in the LGBT movement (myself being one) have a tendency to think we know what transpeople need (and intersex people, if we even consider their existence).  We lump transfolks into the gay rights movement and then get bitchy when they intrude on our women-only space.  I admit that when I first heard about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival incident, I was a little unsure about my opinion.  I wasn’t sure I wanted someone with a penis in a woman-only space, because I will freely admit that I hate and deeply fear the penis at this point in my life. But on the other hand, well, that’s my problem.  I need to get over it, or not show up.  We don’t have a right to identify as women if we’re going to exclude others who choose to do so.  My own acceptance is coming along slowly, and I appreciate any help from trans, intersex, and genderqueer folk who have advice or opinions, but I also know that it’s not your responsibility to fix my fuckups.  I think we all need to take responsibility for the discrimination and plain stupidity we’ve exercised in the past, and figure out how to do better in the future.  Hopefully this year’s IDAHO focus will be a strong first step.

Why Marry?

With all the talk that’s been going around about gay marriage and the benefits of marriage (and in some academic circles, the idea of abolishing marriage or using alternatives to marriage), I thought I’d try just for fun to brainstorm a list of reasons why people marry.  I’m not pro- or anti-marriage; I actually think that everyone, gay and straight, should have the option to marry but should also have another option that allows for certain benefits and obligations without the label or the full legal package of marriage.  This is just sort of an interesting thought experiment.  Feel free to add your own in the comments!

  1. Economic/social status conferred by marrying a particular person.  This might take the form of a bump up in an individual’s class in some societies, money or property passing through the marital relationship (whether by virtue of laws that dictate how property can be owned by a married person or through a gift like a dowry), social connections based on the spouse’s personal and business relationships, family connections that lead to a step up in business or otherwise, etc.  Also falling under this category would be unique benefits that come from the spouse’s abilities: example, marrying a woman who’s great at hosting parties gives a man a business advantage.
  2. Economic/social status conferred by virtue of the institution of marriage.  These are benefits that accrue by virtue of simply being married, regardless of the individual spouse.  Being married in some societies is/was a symbol of adulthood.  There might be tax benefits due to marriage, or other tangible economic benefits.  In the modern U.S., for example, there are plenty of people who marry because of health insurance benefits or tax situation.
  3. Legitimacy of/benefits for children.  In many societies, marriage was/is the only acceptable environment for child-rearing, so getting married would benefit the child as well as the parents.  If divorce is acceptable, this is also a common reason not to get a divorce.  Benefits range from economic incentives to avoiding social stigma for the child.
  4. Legitimating sex.  Marriage is often the only social acceptable relationship in which sex can take place, and also once a couple is married, they tend to escape sexual scrutiny.  Whatever your kinky sexual preferences, the law and society are likely to ignore them within the “sanctity” of the marital bed.  
  5. Avoiding suspicion.  A related reason to marry is that a particular culture may look at young single individuals with suspicion.  If marriage is the social norm, then there is a lot of pressure to marry, and to do what’s expected.  This may include family pressure, peer pressure, etc.  I’m also thinking of those who do have something to hide, like gay men and lesbians who would marry one another in the 1950s and continue to have sex with other people, or gay individuals throughout history who married someone of the opposite sex in order to keep others’ eyes away from their sexual encounters with the same sex. 
  6. Love/companionship.  Especially in modern times, it seems like love is a big reason to get married.  Society tells us that once you find that “one true person,” the logical next step is to propose.  It makes sense to mark companionship with a legal relationship, and this also ties in with some of the benefits – for example, if you love someone you may want to be sure they are taken care of when you die through the inheritance laws.  Marriage also shows others that you’re serious, and serves as a sign of long-term commitment.  

Others?  I’m sure there must be many more; this is just off the top of my head.

Spotlight on Ballot Initiatives: California Proposition 8

Why hello there.

First, apologies for getting behind on comments, both approving and replying.  I know being super-busy isn’t really an excuse, because we’re all in the same boat.  I’ll try to do better – I love getting comments and I really appreciate everyone who reads, whether or not you comment.

Second, hey, this liveblogging thing is pretty cool!  I’m back home from South Dakota on an actual computer, but it’s nice to know that one-fingered typing can keep you updated when I’m at exciting related events (hopefully there will be more of those after I graduate and am employed).  I am glad, though, that I’m not going to have to watch the debate on a three-inch screen!  Speaking of South Dakota, I’ve decided to do a little spotlight on ballot initiatives feature this month, to keep y’all informed about gender and sexuality related issues that are up for a vote in your state.  As promised, I’ll let you know about Measure 11, as well as my own experience fighting it and the interesting perspectives that South Dakotans bring to the table on the issue.  Tonight, I’d like to talk about Prop 8 in California, and gay marriage in general.  

I know most of you reading are in favour of gay marriage, and against Prop 8, but I’ve also noticed some anti-gay comments on the blog, and I’d like to make a rational appeal just in case there are any undecided California voters hanging around.  The language itself is pretty simple.  It would add a section stating that, “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”  There isn’t much to debate about that language, but I’d like to give a few reasons why gay marriage should be valid and recognized, however you personally feel about gay people and whether or not you think that gays should marry as a religious or social matter.

  1. Disallowing gay marriage doesn’t get rid of gay relationships.  Gay people will still love each other, make commitments to each other, say vows to each other, live together, and raise children together in California if the proposition passes.  They will still marry each other in churches.  The only thing at issue here is whether gay marriage is legally recognised by the state.
  2. Allowing gay marriage doesn’t threaten heterosexual marriage.  The divorce rate has been going up for years without any recognition of gay marriage in this country.  People marry for many, many, many reasons and they divorce for just as many reasons.  Perhaps the culture of a whole is changing to de-emphasise marriage, but if this is what bothers you, gay marriage should be a good thing.  It encourages people who are already in stable, loving relationships to marry, and means more children will be raised in the context of a marriage.  Again, the idea is not that the state is creating more gay relationships to lure straight people away from marriage.  The relationships are already here.  Straight people are not lured away by the prospect of a gay marriage.  Closeted gay people in heterosexual marriages were already gay in the first place.
  3. Gay marriage protects children.  However you feel about gay people adopting kids together, or about second-parent adoptions or other family structures involving gay parents, they do exist.  There are children being raised by gay people, and if Proposition 8 passes they will be threatened.  The rights and benefits that extend to married people include many rights, financial and otherwise, designed to protect children.  Even if children have rights by virtue of the parent-child relationship, whether the parents’ partnership is recognised or not, there is a stigma that goes along with having a law on the books suggesting that a child’s family is unnatural.  This stigma is harmful to children.
  4. The idea that this is a slippery slope and soon all sorts of sexual conduct will be recognised, from bestiality to incest to polygamy, is a little silly.  This isn’t about sex, it is about a legal relationship between two people.  Sodomy laws are already unconstitutional in this country.  The gays and lesbians who want to marry are often more conservative than their peers and in some cases more like heterosexual married couples than unmarried LGBT ones.  Many of them have children, and often are already in long-term, committed relationships and would have married earlier if it had been a legal option.  Many LGBT people for whom marriage is significant are religious.  The gay marriage movement is actually quite moderate, and isn’t asking for wild, promiscuous sex.  It is asking for recognition in a context to which many married heterosexual people can relate.  

I should note that these aren’t the reasons why I personally support the gay marriage movement (those have more to do with equality and rights), but if I learned anything this weekend it’s that two people can vote the same way on a given ballot initiative for entirely different reasons.  So, I think that both progressive LGBT folks and allies, and more conservative heterosexual people who don’t give a hoot about gay people but do care about children and families, should vote no on this proposition.