The bulk of this was posted elsewhere more privately a few weeks ago.. but I’ve been thinking about it again, and decided it was time to clean it up and put it out there for more general discussion..
I’ve been doing a fair amount of existential head spiraling this spring and summer. Much of it is more or less interrelated – having to do with the ideas of labels and assumptions and politics and advocacy and privilege and, and, and – but manifests differently on different days. This little trip down the rabbit hole was triggered by this, but it coincides with this as well. (Other spirals have been caused lately by the Texas polygamist “scandal”, body image, interracial marriage, women gamers, how the media influences women’s self-perceptions, and feminism.)
My feelings about the debate surrounding same-sex domestic partner benefits* – or really more properly stated, about the fight for equality and the effects of societal privilege – are complicated. There’s no “nutshell” that I can summarize things to; there’s no “it’s too long, let me sum up”. It’s not neat and tidy, writing it all out hasn’t led me back to some grand summation that I can now insert at the beginning to make it all make some sort of sense. This isn’t about resolution.. I haven’t found the end of the spiral, and I don’t really think there is one.
I feel equal parts guilty for having the “good fortune” of having a partner who is of the opposite sex, and angry that because of that “good fortune” I’m complicit in supporting societal privilege based on sexual orientation. Guilty that I wouldn’t choose, that I haven’t chosen, *not* to accept those benefits – who would it really serve? That kind of gesture is really only a gesture unless it’s done by enough people to gain notice and force action and I’ve seen too many “personal crusades” become farces that do no one good – and angry that such privilege is so ingrained into our society as to make it near impossible for all but the already financial secure to make such gestures – with health care costs (as the most convenient example**) being what they are, who can really afford not to insure their partner given the opportunity?
I think the complicity is what eats at me most, because it doesn’t matter what my sexual orientation is, but because I appear straight, I’m complicit in perpetuating the societal privilege. And while I might choose to make my sexual orientation a political statement, that idea goes against my belief that who I love and who I sleep with are no one else’s business. Similarly, I could actively seek out another woman with whom to have a relationship for the sole purpose of making the point, but the idea of using someone else to make a political statement is so abhorrent to me that the idea is absurd. From a personal perspective, I prefer to keep my intimate life intimate; what happens between me and my partner is not open to public discussion or debate. Period.
From a political perspective, people who are straight don’t have to make their sexual orientation a political issue, so why should people who aren’t? It’s.. it strikes me as both counterintuitive and counterproductive – if the point is that it shouldn’t matter what gender my partner is in order for them to be eligible for benefits, why should my orientation matter in making the statement?
I feel this way about most social justice issues – and I’ve been accused of being naive and not wanting to actually work toward change but rather just sound like I do because of it. If the point is that as people we all deserve equal treatment, why should it matter if I’m white or female or married or educated or anything? Why can’t it just be enough that I’m willing to stand up for that equality? Why do I have to prove my credentials to “speak truth to power”? And trust me.. saying that I don’t doesn’t hold water.. I’ve been shunned and ignored by enough “marginalized” groups working toward social justice because I don’t appear to have those credentials to believe otherwise.
But I know that my choice to keep my private life out of the public sphere is also a privilege – one granted by the assumption that I’m straight (or the fact that I’m white, or, or, or..). And that brings me back to the idea that while I can work to equalize (and therefore reduce the effects of) privilege, I have to be privileged to do so. To be heard, I have to have a voice, but having a voice apparently means I can’t speak truth because I “obviously” haven’t “been there”.. or I wouldn’t have a voice.
And.. part of this is also at some level a recognition that while I could devote my life to fighting this (or any number of other) battle(s), I guess I’m selfish in that I want to *live* my life, too. Which is also, I know, an option available to me, again, because I am privileged.
And so we keep on spiraling down..
* My feelings about whether they should be available are not; there’s nothing particularly sacred about one man and one woman in my eyes so I think that partner benefits should not privilege that relationship above others. Yes, there are some lines I would draw – such that I think “partner” implies a relationship between consenting adult humans – but generally, I think that benefits should either be available to all self-identified families or to none.
** This same argument could be made for lots of other things for which one could make a stand if they were in the financial position to be able to afford it – such as shopping at WalMart. On the one hand, if you’re poor, or increasingly even lower middle-class (whatever that means), shopping at WalMart allows you to get the things your family needs at a lower cost to you. The fact that it might be doing so on the back of your neighbors, or that their policies of active wage depression contribute to the larger societal issue of non-living-wages which might be why you’re poor, or lower middle-class, are less likely to be principles you can stand on when faced with the choice between your principles and caring for your family. And we’ll not even get into the social stigma of what happens if you choose to stand on your principles and your family suffers and you’re viewed as being incapable or immoral for not putting your family first.
For what it’s worth, there are a couple more spirals ike this bouncing in my head.. one on the difference between gender and sex, and one on being female and resisting the feminist label, at least. I’ll likely clean those up in the next couple weeks and post them, too.