Last month, I married a beautiful, blonde, butch Jewess who whistles show tunes and makes me laugh until my stomach hurts. I wore a striped jumpsuit made by my sister and did an interpretive dance to Sia's "Chandelier"while slightly stoned at the reception. In other words, it was a dream. But I wasn't always sure it would happen.
For much of my adult life, a dizzying array of factors have suggested that I should not want a marriage: my parents' collegial yet apparently unromantic relationship and subsequent divorce, the atheism imposed by my mother, my distaste for polyester napkins and slow dancing with my dad. Oh, and an (almost) unblemished 20-year record of queerness, as opposed to lesbianism, though lately I'm warming to the jaunty, anachronistic quality of that label.
I'm generally very down for the queer belief system, which as I understand it includes, but is not limited to, the following truths: Our bodies belong to us; our identities are ours to whip up as we fancy and tailor as we see fit. Our freedoms and our struggles intersect. We bear witness to one another's truths, and one another's performance art, even when it is really, really bad.
On the other hand, queer people, based on my experience, are generally opposed to: capitalism, gender normativity, body shame, enforced silence, movements that work toward the liberation of one group at the expense of another, and (often, but not always) marriage.
I cannot count the number of conversations I've stayed quiet in when the topic has turned to the oppressive heteronormativity of marriage. I can count the number of times I did notstay quiet: two. I regret both of those conversations. They did not go well. I felt a bit like I was arguing in favor of boot-cut jeans. Why bother even trying to explain such an unpopular opinion? Why debate this subject at all? It isn't that I disagree that marriage can be grotesque; it's that I also think it can be something else, and it's every queer person's right to reclaim it. In fact, I have long felt that marriage was the most radical thing I could do. Here's why.
1. Visibility. Not long ago, a flirtatious deli guy asked who I lived with, and when I said, "My girlfriend," the flirting continued without pause. Who cares about the flirting? He's a lovely man who flirts with basically everyone. It brightens one's day. But Jenna and I are not "girlfriends." We never were. We do not go shoe shopping together, and we don't fix each other's mascara after weeping about bros who didn't call us back.
It is hard to articulate the feeling of having been misinterpreted by guys like Deli Guy. It's more than one thing. There's rage, sadness, defeat, relief. Yes, I've indulged in the satisfaction of passing privilege, when failing to correct a stranger's assumption that I'm straight will get me a free drink or spare me from having to deal with a creep who "loves lesbians."
But as a person who thrives on community and common ground, I feel squirmy when I'm miscategorized. And I find it strange that I need a queer-looking date or a "Nobody Knows I'm a Lesbian" T-shirt to make me visibly who I am. On good days, I have a lot to add to the conversation about who's queer and what that looks like, and I'd like to make that happen more easily.
2. Righteous indignation. You know what I have in common with a lot of the most vitriolic male homophobes? I like ladies. When I recently tested a city-council candidate's politics by telling him, "My wife and I are undecided," there was only one word that made an impact in that sentence. Wife. Not partner, not girlfriend, not roommate. He has one. I have one. I love it when indisputable, state-sanctioned commonalities enrage people. I love it when people are forced to deal with you. They can cry and wring their hands and perform sad, childish acts of civil disobedience, but my marriage is as real as anything gets in their world.
3. Joy. My closest friends have wildly different approaches to relationships. I have friends who hook up with new people on a weekly basis, friends who married their college sweethearts, and friends who aren't particularly interested in sex or romance at all. So I've had a lot of room to interpret marriage on my own terms, which is a luxury that isn't granted to everyone. Rather than conceiving of marriage as a jumping-off point, I think of it as a celebration of hard work: the work Jenna and I have done as individuals, the work we've done together, and the work of the queer ancestors before us who fought in big and little ways to survive and be seen. The whole point of our wedding was to experience and witness joy. Which can actually be pretty transgressive.
Having said all this, I want to also acknowledge that marriage is not the end of our struggle for equality. Queer people—especially elders, young people, and people of color—still experience poverty, incarceration, and disease at alarming rates. We have so much work ahead of us. But as we do that work, I believe we should also make room for celebration, for pride, and for the delightful experience of blowing our parents' minds by choosing bearded, 30-something gay men to be our flower girls. I think we've earned it.
Kira Garcia is a writer living in Brooklyn with her wife.