Alex Blaze

The Dollar Purple

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 29, 2008 10:31 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media, The Movement
Tags: California, class benefits, marriage, Massachusetts, New York Times, race

I was reading that lengthy article in the NY Times about young gay couples who are getting married, but at about page 6 I wanted to jump out the window so I could run around the street screaming, so I just stopped. It's one of the most irritating things I've ever read without being paid.

It's hard to see much of a point to Benoit Denizet-Lewis's profiling of these couples other than to present an image of gay marriage that's

  1. rich,
  2. white, and, without question,
  3. the best goddamned thing ever.
More after the jump.

Most of the couples interviewed by Denizet-Lewis at least present the signs of excessive affluence (monogrammed slippers, antique furniture from all over the world, catered sushi parties, jobs at law firms, and degrees from MIT) and the one group of young, gay men he interviewed was described as "five working professionals" in their 20's and "two college undergraduates."

For all the talk from those advocating for marriage as a solution to economic disparity between queer and straight people, let's just say that it didn't, um, shine through here.

And queer couples make an average of earn around $7000 less than straight couples, according to the most recent US Census. It's not like they're rolling in it.

This is a standard right-wing attack against same-sex marriage and sexual orientation based job protections, that gays are so rich that they don't need the rights associated with it. And after reading a simple majority of this article, I came away with the same feeling that Tin Man did regarding the wealthiness of it all:

The photos also bother me because they play into the stereotype that all gay men are affluent and privileged and don't really need the economic benefits that marriage would bring or the job protections that an employment nondiscrimination law would bring. They also play into the stereotype that we're all fabulous curiosities instead of real people who don't have equal rights.[...]

Gay people are not all supercool. Enough already.

While I don't really know the financial specifics of the couples involved (even though they're clearly being presented as wealthy), Denizet-Lewis says that they're all white and explains why:

But with no model for how to build a young gay marriage, I was curious about how gay men in their 20s would choose to construct and maintain their unions. What would their marriages look like? And would the expectation of monogamy, a longstanding cornerstone of heterosexual marriage, be a requirement for their marriages as well?

To find out, I spent time over the next few months with a handful of young married and engaged gay couples -- including Joshua and Benjamin. All were college-educated and white. (A 2008 study of gay and lesbian couples in Vermont, California and Massachusetts -- three states that offer some form of legal recognition for gay couples -- found that "couples who choose to legalize their same-sex relationships... are overwhelmingly European American.")

At least he knows his sample is skewed.

I wonder why it is, though, that married/registered gay couples are "overwhelmingly European American." I know that same-sex couples definitely aren't all white, and we can't just say it's the states he chose - California is quite diverse.

It is, possibly, just journalistic laziness on the part of Denizet-Lewis (and since I don't know how overwhelming "overwhelmingly" is, and since it's still no excuse to exclude same-sex couples of color from an 8000-word article, that's probably part of it). I can't find the original statistic, and since he cited the study so specifically with a "2008 study of gay and lesbian couples," that might just be a question for the ages. Logo and the Washington Blade didn't find the original study either.

I suppose this is the "feel free to speculate" part of the post. It might simply be a gap between the people who couple up with someone of the same sex and those who want to register or marry. They aren't the same thing, no matter how much Denizet-Lewis tries to ignore that simple truth, and that space might prove yet another reason why the rights associated with marriage in the US (like access to health care, the right to take leave to take care of a loved one, the ability to make medical and interment decisions for a partner) should be expanded to include non-married couples.

Aside from those two substantive criticisms, what sticks out is how sickeningly sweet the couples in this article are. Sure, I'm probably as close to the stereotype of a bitter queen as someone in his 20's can get, but I'm sure even normal human beings would want to tell these kids to take a step back from the edge.

Most of the couples say that they're going to get married because it's "obvious," "inevitable," and because they know that they're going to stay together forever. I hate to go into full Bitter Queen Mode and point out the fact that almost half of all marriages in the US end in divorce nowadays and that I doubt they're all planning on getting divorced from the start, but it seems pertinent here.

I'm not against marriage. Far from it. But people who go down that path should have a realistic idea of what they're getting into, and I had hopes that queers would be better at relationship realism because of our outsider status with respect to many of the pressures that push straight couples towards marriage-with-unrealistic-expectations.

And the photos. The photos, in that oh-so-tired ironic faux 1950's style, are among the most horrifying images I've ever seen. I thought that's what we were trying to get away from: the whole perfect wife, perfect home, perfect life Norman Rockwell-esque imagery that is often just a facade to shield the unhappiness, desperation, boredom, and sometimes violence of the participants from the world. Weren't we one of the prime examples of how the 50's weren't perfect for everyone, no matter what the Religious Right says?

While I could at least bite my tongue and take them as some sort of hipster statement, the fact that they so closely follow the text and capture the air of the article itself, I think I'm right with being horrified.

That imagery is contrasted with a few descriptions of the horrible, dirty sluts the gays used to be:

WHEN I FIRST LEARNED that some young gay men were marrying in Massachusetts, I wondered if their marriages might be a repudiation of the gay world fashioned by previous generations of men -- men who reacted to oppression and homophobia in the '70s and '80s by rejecting heterosexual norms and "values," particularly around sex and relationships. Many older gay men would have scoffed at the idea of marrying and having kids. To many of them, their "family" was their network of close gay friends.

Silly homos thinking outside the box and pretending that anyone outside the nuclear family can be important to them.

But I could also relate to young gay men yearning for companionship and emotional security. Had gay marriage been an option when I was 23 and recently out of the closet, I might very well have proposed to my first gay love. Like many gay men my age and older, I grew up believing that gay men in a happy long-term relationship was an oxymoron. (I entered high school in 1989, before gay teenagers started taking their boyfriends to the prom.) If I was lucky enough to find love, I thought, I'd better hold onto it. And part of me tried, but a bigger part of me wanted to pitch a tent in my favorite gay bar. I wasn't alone. Everywhere I looked, gay men in their 20s -- or, if they hadn't come out until later, their 30s, 40s and 50s -- seemed to be eschewing commitment in favor of the excitement promised by unabashedly sexualized urban gay communities. There was a reason, of course, why so many gay men my age and older seemed intent on living a protracted adolescence: We had been cheated of our actual adolescence.

Those are just two examples. There was more slut-shaming....

Wasn't this supposed to be a queer liberation movement? Weren't we supposed to be moving away from the idea that there's only one appropriate way to have a relationship or to express one's sexuality?

Sheesh. James Dobson couldn't have said it any better himself.

This might be a good representation of young, gay married couples, or it might be remembered as a stark reminder of what happens when a generation of queers grows up bombarded with "pro-marriage" and "pro-family" rhetoric from the Religious Right and an LGBT movement focused on co-opting that language to fashion a plea for sympathy based on "If you think marriage is the best thing ever, then why don't you let us participate? Huh?"

Although, as a man in his 20's in a relationship with another man, I didn't see anything even close to my reality in that article. So maybe it's just lazy journalism.

But I still have a message to the writer: You're not helping!


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Alex-

I couldn't agree more. Even though I am a married, young gay man (okay, young-ish...), this article left me wanting to poke my eyes out.

The way the author found only affluent white gays couples and made them the majority was infuriating. It worked so hard to make being gay palatable to the public.

Marriage is important. No question about it. But not so we can bake cookies and throw cocktail parties. It is important as a way to protect our families and give us the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

Now with that being said, I'm going to put on my apron and pearls and do some vacuuming.

Seriously, Waymon. I was like "Where'd all the stuff about the rights go?"

Buried somewhere under the Hermes scarves and Louis Vuitton handbags they didn't want anymore, I guess...

Very well put! It looks like you and I have similar views on this. I didn't see quite as much pro-marriage propaganda in it as you did -- I think much of my resentment of the article came from the personal baggage I was bringing to it. But the focus on the whites, plus the ridiculous photos, just made the article seem off.

Oh, good, I'm not the only one bothered by this. Frankly, the photos from the article are getting more play that the content of the article itself, and every time I see them pop up on another blog, I ask myself, "why don't I know anyone whose life is like that?"

So, is there a norm these days? What DO young gay men want (no snickering please). Are they all being fed the idea of marriage now? What about the non-rich, gay young men, of any nationality and/or color? Are they thinking of marriage too? Are these guys thinking in "couple" language the way I did when I was in high school? It would be interesting to know.

Those are good questions, Annette. Maybe the NY Times magazine should do an article about them!

All kidding aside, I actually do think that there are lots of younger gay men who have the luxury to buy into the whole fairy tale (pun intended) about true love and happily ever after.

Not really a criticism of them, but we were able to escape a lot of that before and now we can't. But to imply, like the article did, that we're all just rushing into marriage (the author based that assertion on 700 marriages involving people under 30 in Mass.), is an overstatement. Lots of young gay men are doing lots of different things.

Some of us are still looking for daddy-type relationships too....

Thanks Alex. As someone who is "involved" in the GLBT community, it never occurred to me to ask these questions. I guess they seem too personal to ask someone. I never even really discussed it with my son in great detail.

I grew up in the 50's and 60's with the idea that everyone should be a "couple". Marriage, living together, etc. So to me, to think that someone wouldn't want to be together with someone else is a bit strange. But I know I have to get over that idea. I know not everyone wants to be settled down and live "happily ever after." It would be great to do a survey or something of the GLBT community.

Did you want the writer to invent young gay married couples of color in Massachusetts to write about? Studies of gay couples who choose to register their relationships have found them to be a) white, and b) highly educated and mostly upper-middle-class.

Why is that? Well, that's a great question. The writer doesn't choose to delve into it, and I can understand that. His focus was on the young gay couples who WERE getting married.

That's what I'm sayin', Jason. I'm sure that there are plently of couples of color in California, but I don't know if they're getting DP'ed at the same rate as the white couples.

But that's not the point. Marriage advocates get pretty offended if someone says that marriage is mostly for white, middle- to upper-class folks. But this article seems to pretty much say straight up that it is.

I don't know. Like I said, I haven't found the original study yet, and neither has anyone else that was looking. I'd wait to see that before we start saying whether this person is being accurate or not.

This is from the May newsletter of Indy PFLAG:

Younger Gays Want Long-Term Relationships, Kids
By 365.Gay.com Newscenter Staff, an excerpt

What is believed to be the first major study of the hopes and aspirations of gay young people has found most want to spend their adult life in a long-term relationship raising children. More than 90% of young lesbians and more than 80% of gay males expect to be partnered in a monogamous
relationship after age 30. Two thirds of females and more than half of males expressed likelihood that they would raise children in the future.

“These findings, while appear to be representative of urban lesbian or gay youth’s aspirations, are a glimpse into the future of the LGBT community,” said Robert-Jay Green, PhD,
executive director of the Rockway Institute, a national research and public policy center located at Allliant International University.
“If these young people realize their expectations, the LGBT community will be a vastly different place in 20 years, with many more families and children. The implications are
staggering for how the lesbian/gay community will be different in the 21st century than in generations past, when it was mainly a secret society of singles.”

The study was conducted by Anthony R. D’Augelli, H. Jonathon Rendina and Katerina O. Sinclair of Pennsuylvania State University and Arnold Grossman of New York University and published in the Journal of LGBT issues in counseling. The researchers interviewed 133 young people from the New York City area who said they were “almost
totally” or “totally” lesbian or gay. The participants were age 16 to 22, and they were asked about their future relationship
and parenting plans.

“We seem to be witnessing the mainstreaming of
lesbian/gay youth, with many of them wanting exactly what heterosexual youth have always wanted – the whole American dream complete with kids and the minivan,” said Green. “This should not be surprising when one considers that most
lesbian/gay youth also have been raised in very mainstream heterosexual families with similar values and parental models.”

Read the entire article at
http://www.365gay.com/Newscon08/04/042408youth.htm
To

I'm not against marriage. Far from it.

I am. Absolutely. But that's because I'm one of those "dirty sluts" you speak of. Or maybe I'm just bitter. But could someone please tell me why we're so eager to be like the straights?

oh, serena... how I yearn to be one of those dirty sluts again...

but alas, I am married. literally.

the article bugged the shit out of me. for one, it was focused as much on the guy's furniture in the living room as it was how... utterly... white they were.

I'm white. I have a nice living room. come interview me! or my co-parents, the two dads who live in the city, have better taste, and are older, more thoughtful human beings who would say, gosh, after 19 years, it kinda sucks.

but we keep at it for many reasons, thick and thin.

part of what I love about being in the gay culture is sure, we can be married, have kids but that doesn't mean we're stuck to following the same rules.

gay marriage was a great way to get a whole lot of rights. perfect? nope. in my twenties, I could not imagine getting married. patriarchal crap.

but those guys are young, inexperienced in life and pretty much reminded me of all the straight people I knew who got married so young.

yeah. all but one couple are divorced.

I wish the guys happiness.(eyes rolling)

I know a bunch of men who would be better examples. some chose monogamy, some did not. some chose kids, some did not.

and everyone loves the health insurance benefits.

This is standard operating procedure for the NYT for uppity types. Gee, they don't need any help. Show how well off they are, and not incidentally show how these people buy chic items advertised in the pages of the Times. (I can't remember if the couples mentioned kicking back and reading the Sunday NYT, but I get the notion that these people are on display so advertisers see that they can sell to a new demographic.)

With women, it's the perennial Harvard Law School grad decides to stay home with child rather than clerk for SCOTUS justice or make partner. Many photos of immaculately dressed woman playing with immaculately dressed child, in perfect Upper East Side living room with view. See? Feminism is dead!

The NYT rarely manages to do much with their Sunday Magazine long format. It's lifestyles of the Rich and Famous about 50% of the time.

To be fair, they do cover gay and women's political issues in the weekday papers, but if it is not related to politics, it goes in the style section. Race issues tend to be portrayed as problems of the underclass.

I will say, the bit about delayed adolescence may be true for some people. The dating scene, the sexual experiences, discovery of what one really wants in a partner, and all the rest will take a while to master for those who were inhibited and guilty and in heterosexual marriages.

beergoggles | April 29, 2008 8:37 PM

I dunno Alex, it seems to me that the entire subject got the same kinda whitewash that most other subjects get from the current media.

We asked for equal treatment and the media is only too happy to oblige by giving glossy and sensationalist coverage of the lives of a select few rich white people who are gay.

I found it amusing in a "young gays are just as deluded as young straights" kinda way.

I think that's what's most worrying, BG. I thought we were special!

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 30, 2008 1:05 AM

Serena, you're saying "dirty sluts" like it's a bad thing! What is bad is "mental virginity."

Alex, I do question one statement you made on a followup about those who look for a "daddy" type relationship. I presume you mean someone to pay their bills for them? Those are not really the type of relationships that last either.

Being 55 in a few days is going to be fun because I can become "fogeylike and forgetful." I am looking forward to that and have many evil plans.

When I met my partner he was 46 and I was 23. I had no idea of his age for months until I met his mother after she had returned from the summer away from our neighborhood.(Oh and the creep still looks 15 years younger than his chron age) Now, I was not a "marriage" person,(I did not wish to ape heterosexual marriage) but as our relationship will have lasted 32 years as of next October I certainly have a few opinions.

We came together with similar modest assets. Our connection was a mental one and relationships are more than the curve of a cheekbone. They require constant work and nurture. Because "marriage" was not a consideration and either of us could walk away our committment to one another was more significant in my mind.

As years passed in our partnership we owned real estate, a business and community activism together. We had no children to consider as surrogate mothers really had not yet happened and neither of us came to the relationship with children.(which is why marriage equality is vital today) We knew our relationship was just about us and made our partnership work through constantly challeging one another to be excellent at whatever we undertook to do. We completed one another and our strengths and weaknesses compensated. I am proud to say we did not want "what heterosexuals wanted" because we demanded better.

I have just looked up the article and the greatest problem are those damn "Ozzie & Harriet" pictures. Just call me queer, but it was pretty elitist. Future archeologists will view this article as an example, of how the very well educated, delt with finding out their sons and daughters are Gay. I got bored after reading the first half. Hmmm, maybe we should crash their party and show them what grumpy old grey men look like!

Or perhaps if we bore the bigots long enough they will surrender and acknowledge reality.

Oh, and my lover cooks and I do the washing up.

I'm glad you posted on this, Alex. I still haven't managed to wade through the damn thing myself. I get irritated and stop reading.

Alex, what do you mean by this?

"Not really a criticism of them, but we were able to escape a lot of that before and now we can't."

What can't you escape now and why?

Thanks!

Not really a criticism of [younger gay men who buy into the fairy tale version of marriage], but we [gays] were able to escape a lot of [pressure to follow suit with stable relationships, perfect house, marriage and monogamy] before [same-sex marriage existed] and now we [don't have as easy of an excuse not to].

I guess it's part of being assimilated, getting the bad parts of the dominant culture along with the good. And I think that's why some of these younger folks are leaning towards the "we're so happy now so we'll get married after a few months, and, yes, yes, it's definitely going to last forever!"

I know, I'm horribly cynical!

Serena, let's get married -- I mean divorced...

I mean... you know what I mean!