Dear Ms. Opinionated,
I’m involved in two healthy, fulfilling polyamorous relationships. I’m not ashamed of the way I live and love, even though some might consider it odd or morally wrong. Generally, I prefer to keep my private life private, but I don’t want to lie about or hide who I am. I wasted far too many years miserable in the closet before I came out as a lesbian. I’m no longer afraid to come out as gay because same-sex relationships are gaining more and more acceptance in society. Coming out as poly is a different story because it is much less understood or accepted.
I want to tell you that the world is fair. But it’s not.
Not everyone’s going to like you, and not everyone’s going to respect your choices. It doesn’t matter how normative your choices supposedly are, nor how much you try to make people like you: universal love, respect and acceptance is not going to come your way (or anyone’s way). And that’s okay—if you make your peace with it. All you can do is make the choices that are right for you and the people affected by them, choose how and when to share or not-share relevant or non-relevant information of your life based on your own comfort level and let the rest go. So while it’s important to recognize that there might—and I stress “might”—be life-consequences that you don’t like for even the choices you make that are positive for you, you don’t have to let those potential consequences dictate what you choose to do. It’s good to plan for the consequences (I’m a fan of back-up plans and back-ups to the back-up plans), but not as good to decide by default that the determining factor in your choices is other people’s (potential) reactions.
Abridged from Bitch Media’s feminist advice column.
Sex From Scratch will be published in spring of 2014 by Microcosm Publishing.
I’m excited to work with Microcosm—they allow authors ample freedom to write excellent books and do all the drudgery of lining up distribution, sales, and all those small details about how to actually get the book to the readers.
Now all I have to do is actually finish the book. That’s the easy part, right?
Kids these days, we’re not so excited about marriage. Ask anyone under 30: Forty-four percent of us will tell you that “marriage is becoming obsolete,” according to a Pew Research Center study, and 46 percent of us will say that “the growing variety of family arrangements is a good thing.” We’ll get married later than ever before, or not at all: Only 51 percent of Americans older than 18 are married, while the number of newlyweds shrinks every year.
Yet this past week has been a nationwide celebration of marriage, as LGBT couples in Washington State finally got to tie the knot that right-wingers have kept tangled for decades. In Seattle, 489 couples applied for marriage licenses on the first day same-sex couples could apply, more than 10 times the usual daily traffic. Getting anywhere near the internet over the weekend guaranteed a deluge of wedding photos and well wishes proclaiming, “Hooray for marriage!”
But what is marriage good for, really, besides the cake and the tax break?
I think much of the gap between excitement around same-sex marriage seen this week and growing apathy toward the institution expressed by young people boils down to one idea: legitimacy.
I’m at the exact average age of first marriage for American women (26.5) and unlike queer couples ecstatic to get hitched, marriage isn’t relevant to my life right now.
As a straight person, I have the privilege of normalcy. I’ve been dating the same guy for four years and while I’m sure he’d look great slow dancing in a steampunk tuxedo (Tentative wedding theme: “Arr love is true!”), there are very few cultural forces pushing us to get married besides pure romance. We don’t believe in sin, we both support ourselves financially, we already live together, and we’re not going to have kids anytime soon.
We have plenty of non-marriage ways to show our love; if I had money to spare, I’d spend it on a vacation together, not 100 wedding invitations letterpressed to look like old-timey airships. But most importantly, whether we’re at the movies, the hospital, or family Thanksgiving, people accept my relationship with my boyfriend, no questions asked. No one has ever taken a look at him and asked when I’ll get over this phase. With this acceptance, and our cohabitating lifestyle, marriage seems rather pointless.
I take the right for granted.
Sunday, December 9, couldn’t have been any more gray and miserable in Vancouver, Washington. But it was a beautiful day for the gay and lesbian couples who came to the Clark County building to get married as soon as they legally could. As wives Bridget and Janine Connell waited with their small, adorable daughters for their legal witness, I asked what role legitimizing their relationship had to do with their decision to marry.
“We’re getting married because we love each other. We deserve to be equal,” said Bridget. Janine nodded: “We’re a family, we want to cement that.”
Surrounded by friends and family under the county building’s rotunda, Hawaiian-shirt-clad grooms Doug and Wayne Myers-Funk echoed similar ideas. Both religious, they would have married the year after they met—1980—if it had been legal. They’ve already had two commitment ceremonies and think those rituals, and Sunday’s, help Wayne’s conservative Mormon family accept them.
“We went through a period of them not accepting us, of having to leave the Christmas gifts on the front door,” said Doug, shortly before kissing his new husband. “With this, they realize it’s not just a phase.”
A New York Times article this weekend about the “short shelf life” of passionate love pointed to biological and sociological research about how couples’ love changes as they adapt to each other:
“Although we may not realize it, we are biologically hard-wired to crave variety. Variety and novelty affect the brain in much the same way that drugs do — that is, they trigger activity that involves the neurotransmitter dopamine, as do pharmacological highs.
Evolutionary biologists believe that sexual variety is adaptive, and that it evolved to prevent incest and inbreeding in ancestral environments. …
We may love our partners deeply, idolize them, and even be willing to die for them, but these feelings rarely translate into long-term passion. And studies show that in long-term relationships, women are more likely than men to lose interest in sex, and to lose it sooner. Why? Because women’s idea of passionate sex depends far more centrally on novelty than does men’s. When married couples reach the two-year mark, many mistake the natural shift from passionate love to companionate love for incompatibility and unhappiness. ”
I found this 1946 booklet on “sex hygiene” at Powell’s last night and had to snag it. While the cover promises a digest on “the science of keeping clean, health, and happy!” the 92-page pamphlet is really about the secrets of sex and marriage. It’s interesting to reflect on how much we’ve changed our attitudes toward sex and gender roles in the past 60 years—and how we haven’t. I’ve distilled the booklet’s post-war sex advice here:
1. If you are masturbating too much, stop eating so many pickles. By 1946, the “eminent medical and hygiene authorities of three continents” had moved beyond the idea that masturbation caused blindness and insanity and settled on the consensus that pretty much everybody masturbates but it is “not nice and it might lead to grave results.” They recommend several ways to stave off masturbation including keeping busy, sleeping on your side, and eliminating from your diet “stimulating foods such as tea, coffee, pickles, and candy.”
2. For a happy marriage, read the news and don’t become fat. The chapter titled “For a Happy Marriage” gives plenty of advice, all of it about how a happy marriage hinges on the wife remaining purty and not driving her husband away with her dirty toenails, soiled housedresses, and “unsightly rolls of flesh.” Also, try to keep up as much as possible with the news. “Nothing becomes more tiresome to a man than a woman who knows nothing of what is going on in the world… improve your mind as much as you can in order to remain interesting to your husband.”
3. To determine if you’re pregnant, inject your urine into a frog.In the days before peeing on a stick, there was peeing on a frog. The manual notes an exciting advance in the world of testing for pregnancy: Doctors can inject a woman’s urine under the skin of an African Clawed Frog and, if the woman is pregnant, the frog will produce 100 to 500 eggs within eight hours. That sounds totally gross, but frog-urine-injection seems to have been surprisingly pretty widespread and reliable.
4. Your libido depends on race and social class. The manual actually has a rather forward-thinking attitude to women’s sexuality, tossing out the Victorian belief that most women do not enjoy sex and saying instead that almost all women enjoy sex and couples should frankly discuss their “manner of love making” to find methods that both parties enjoy. BUT, the medical experts also embraced Progressive notions, noting that female “frigidity” varies according to country and “social stratum”: “North America contains the most frigid women and they are much rarer in Latin countries.”
5. Know when to sterilize yourself for the good of society. Another Progressive Era virtue we find horrific today: “Eugenic sterilization is a practical, human and necessary step to prevent race deterioration.” The “feeble minded and insane” should be sterilized by the state, but it’s also the duty of the following individuals to seek sterilization: alcoholics, people unable to learn in school, anyone whose family has a history of cancer, tuberculosis, syphilis, or epilepsy. Yep.
6. Never, ever get an abortion. There’s no discussion in the pamphlet of birth control methods, except an entire chapter on the dangers of abortion. The anti-abortion arguments could be spoken today by anti-abortion groups and actually reads a bit like a Focus on the Family pamphlet: Abortion is murder, doctors who perform the procedure are scam artists, the operation is extremely painful and will likely lead to sterility or death. The pamphlet also notes with surprise that the majority of women who get abortions are married—which is mirrored today in stats that most women seeking abortions already have at least one child.
7. If your husband is cheating, it’s probably your fault.While the sterility section sounds insane today, one thing that hasn’t changed, sadly, is the ingrained idea that men are just cheatin’ machines and wives are probably somehow motivating the affair. From the chapter “Forty and After”:
“A problem of middle age is the ‘errant husband. Suddenly your world tumbles about you. Your devoted husband of twenty years has committed adultery! You can hardly believe it! Honestly, now, have you examined yourself recently? How long has it been since you said anything complimentary to him—flattered his ego? What have you done to make him love you? … But all men have a spirit of adventure and it often crops out at middle ago. What to do when you discover your husband is untrue to you? If you love him, nothing. Ignore it, pretend you don’t know anything about it. Then take stock of yourself, your mannerisms, your appearance, your attitude toward your husband—and see if you cannot find the answer there.”
I was disappointed that the presidential debate on “domestic policy” didn’t include any discussion of domestic policies I care about—namely, gay rights, birth control funding, and gender equality.
It was a debate devoid of women. In fact, I just looked through the transcript of the debate and the only time the word “woman” or “women” is mentioned is when Romney tells this story:
Ann yesterday was at a rally in Denver and a woman came up to her with a baby in her arms and said, “Ann, my husband has had four jobs in three years, part-time jobs. He’s lost his most recent job and we’ve now just lost our home. Can you help us?”
So the only woman mentioned in the entire domestic policy debate is depicted as a baby-holding mother, worried about her husband, begging Romney for help. Great.