Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Get hitched or get ditched!

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | February 23, 2010 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: assimilation, Charles Socarides, conversion therapy, edinburgh, gay marriage, gentrification, political canvassing, Prop. 8, Washington D.C.

The Skinny in Edinburgh asked me to write a short piece on marriage (no, my dear, you're not the only one), and here's how it starts:

My mother, a straight white woman in her early sixties, recently moved to a newly gentrified area of Washington, DC. The formerly black neighborhood is filled with young white professionals, and my mother's building is heavily populated by wealthy gay men. Not surprisingly, the busy pavement is a popular spot for canvassers. The other day, my mother encountered a smiling gay man inquiring, "Are you interested in gay rights?" When she stopped, he asked her to support gay marriage with a financial contribution.

My mother told him she believed gay people should have the same rights as straight people - hospital visitation, tax breaks, inheritance rights, healthcare, and the rest - but she didn't think this should only happen through marriage. The canvasser explained that marriage would help gay people to become part of the mainstream. My mother asked: what about gay people who aren't mainstream?

Read the rest here.


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Straight "allies" should be willing to have more in-depth conversations with gay people on gay issues, even if they risk being called "homophobes" by some of the less secure in the community. Go your mom.

Alex, so true!

Although I'm not even sure my mother would yet fit under the category of straight "allies," however fraught the category is. Straight Washington DC suburban "liberal" that she is, I don't think she even knew any gay people (other than her hairstylist) before she moved into the heart of Gaylandia two years ago. In other words, she's probably heard more about gay marriage from me than anyone else (although I wouldn't have known whether she was paying attention)... Perhaps that helped in this particular conversation -- she wasn't as worried about towing the line in order to exact anything some random gay person on the street said, just so they wouldn't think she was homophobic. I'll admit I was surprised!

And, I should add, the canvasser had no idea how to respond.

She knew you! That's the most important gay there is to her! :)

I love it! And I was about to ask about the response, but I see now: he was flabbergarsted!

And, clearly, she's been paying attention :-) Go your mom, indeed.

Congratulations to your mom on naming four of the more than 1,000 rights afforded to married couples by the federal government. Given your and your mother's interest in ensuring that gay and lesbian couples are barred from marrying even if they want to because you, personally, don't believe in marriage, I assume you have a feasible alternative that will be equitable and have safeguards against abuse (like people obtaining tax breaks with their roommates because they just don't feel like paying taxes, getting visited in the hospital by the guy who put you there and who brings a gun to finish the job, etc.).

Instead of throwing barbs at us right-wing, fascist gays who strive for something better than the second-class citizenship you so enthusiastically romanticize, why don't you actually give us some practical alternatives and realistic ways to achieve them.

getting visited in the hospital by the guy who put you there and who brings a gun to finish the job

And if it was your husband and you're a straight woman? It seems like limiting hospital visitation to family only does little to prevent violence.

Alaric, tax breaks for roommates -- now that's a good idea!

Oh honey, I'd like a piece of that! Wait, potted plants and animals count, right?

And hats -- don't forget hats, I know you have a lot of those...

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | February 24, 2010 7:52 PM

Alaric, I am shocked, SHOCKED do you hear?, that Mattilda's mom would choose to live in a newly gentrified neighborhood that displaced Black families. This is in the continuing theme that everyone else's comfort is second to one's own comfort, or is it selfishness?

In Mattilda's Scottish piece, designed to give diversion to haggis boilers all around greater Edinburgh, she makes her usual points about incarceration, the military and how marriage equality funding sucks funding from other worthwhile causes. See first paragraph above. No one donates to anything that would interrupt their own comfort. There would be *no more money* for all the other commendable goals (and some not commendable) that Mattilda advocates if the "marriage rights" advocates suddenly disappeared. There would not be funding if people did not wish to give money to this cause.

I don't personally support "traditional marriage" for gay or straight people, but Mattilda should be as persuasive in RAISING FUNDS for the causes she advocates rather than trying to denigrate the successful fund raising efforts of those advocating marriage equality. Is it just envy or selfishness?

A little bit of both, methinks...
The thing is, I can respectfully disagree with opposition to marriage on a personal level or principled opposition to hate-crime laws and militarism.

My problem with Mattilda, Yasmin and R. Conrad comes from their almost Machiavellian desire for the continuation of policies that blatantly discriminate against GLBT people because they think it serves their pie-in-the-sky ideals and their self-righteous belief that all GLBT people should subscribe to the same far-left worldview that they do. I find that the further one's politics move to the left or the right, the closer the two extremes become; one thing both the far left and far right have in common are unrealistic ideologies that forgo practical, feasible solutions to real-world problems and hold out for some far off, future utopia.

Believe me, if I could, I would pull our military out of Iraq and Afghanistan and shut down our military bases abroad (though maybe with exception to the one in Korea, as long as the people there wanted it, considering the belligerence of the North) and reduce our military to the size needed to defend the country from within its own borders and contribute soldiers to UN peacekeeping missions. But that's not likely to happen for a while, and as long as we have a military, there is no moral or legal reason why it should exclude certain people based on whom they fuck.

Make the >1,000 legal benefits of marriage available to all regardless of marital status? Gee, great idea, but there's no realistic way to achieve that. Legally devaluing or abolishing marriage would require a radical change of consciousness on the part of people that, let's face it, ain't happening within our lifetimes, not for at least one or two evolutionary cycles.

Hate crime laws? Now that GLBT people are included, this is a moot point. But while the left-wing and right-wing reasons for opposing hate crime laws are different, my counterpoint to them is the same: Whether you like them or not, hate crime laws are on the books and are unlikely to go away any time soon. And while they're there, they need to be applied equitably. A common argument by opponents on the right and left is that they don't actually reduce hate crimes, but that's not the whole reason they exist; one major reason they exist is to give state and federal law enforcement officials power to investigate hate crimes when local law enforcement people are unwilling to because they're too racist, homophobic or otherwise bigoted.

I guess every political movement has its fringe groups. In this case it's "non-mainstream queers".

My thoughts exactly... They're like our version of the Nation of Islam or PETA...

Robert, don't you worry -- I'm certainly the first to critique my mother's role in gentrification :)

My critique of the gay marriage movement is a critique of the way it has systematically redirected resources in the wrong direction, and limited the options for everyone while focusing on a narrow vision of access to straight privilege at any cost.

If you have a problem with that, then you can donate money directly to organizations that support the causes you like or volunteer for them and try to solicit donations. The Trevor Project and the Ali Forney Center, for example, allow you to make donations online.

That's a great way of putting it, Mattilda. And I love the supreme grace with which you deal with comments, btw.

Of course, for some people, the word "resources" only means supporting the non-profit industrial complex with money whereas the resources you're talking about have to do with political and organising energy as well. The NPIC sucks that away from grassroots endeavours, as amply demonstrated in recent work by Ryan and others. Some of us recently learnt first-hand about the NPIC's vampiric tendencies here in Chicago. But that's a tale for later ;)

Yasmin, exactly -- political and organizing energy as well, for sure! And I can't wait for the tale of vampiric tendencies...

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | February 25, 2010 8:36 AM

I'll make smores! You see, I never thought of straights as privileged, at all. I just thought they carried extra burdens around that led to all the drinking and ulcers. I am sure you remember from being a small child that there were no people happy to be married all the time.

They settle for it because they lack imagination as to how their lives could be different. How else would 18 year old high school grads get the idea that they should marry?

This being said what motivates people to action is an individual choice and all ideas should be shared. I also admit I love haggis though I feel sorry for all the little "haggi" that must be slaughtered to indulge this Scottish delicacy. :)

The sushi sisters have every right to their opinions and to their sense of big-city entitlement. And if they derive some happiness out of incessantly criticizing the gay rights movement in favor of some nebulous socialistic ideal of an equal parceling out of donations, then let them. It's not like any of us living outside of Washington, Chicago or San Francisco finds anything useful or relevant in their commentaries. On the whole, I enjoy reading some of the posts in Bilerico.

Brad, the "sushi sisters" -- could this be racism and misogyny bundled together for easy swallowing? Or, am I missing something...

Good job: When you can't come up with a reasoned, logical counterargument, resort to sarcasm and accusing your critics of racism and/or sexism.

Mattilda,

I think the message from Bailey here is quite simple - and it echoes a Sarah Palin-like dichotomy of the world: Urban queers like sushi, hate anyone living outside their fancy "big-city" places, and presumably smoke clove cigarettes all day long while they plot their "socialistic" plans for the world. Those living outside Washington, Chicago, or San Francisco (my NYC friends are seething at being left out, btw) are the true lesbians and gay men, who are just humble, salt-of-the-earth types whose lives have real meaning and validation. And, presumably, their culinary tastes run to, oh, chicken pot pie and country eggs and ham (and I think you're absolutely right to point to the possible racism and misogyny of the phrase "sushi sisters")?

I bring this up not to engage Mr. Bailey or any of his cohorts here, who are clearly spoiling for a fight that they're not getting (hence their increasing shrillness, incoherence of rhetoric, and sheer volume of bile, as we can witness here) but to make an observation: It's astonishing how much a certain segment of the gay marriage crowd exactly replicates the extreme faction of the Republican party.

When Sarah Palin denounces urban Democrats in her designer wardrobe, after stepping off her expensive chartered jet, the liberals rightly point out her hypocrisy. But some gays and lesbians use the exact same strategies to engage any critique of marriage, insisting that urban queers don't get marriage unlike us wholesome non-urban, family-loving gays and lesbians who eschew fancy stuff like, ew, sushi. It is, of course, a ridiculous strategy and based on utterly inane stereotypes of "urban" vs. "non-urban," (and ignores the demographic realities of the queer community in urban and rural areas) and it's not a winning one - the tide is shifting so that enough people on the straight lefty-progressive side are beginning to take note of the hypocrisy and the sheer nastiness of factions of the gay marriage movement.

(And for the record: I love chicken pot pie AND sushi. What does that make me, I wonder?)

Commenters like the ones showing up here are actually helping me make make my point to the straight left compadres I talk to about gay marriage and its problems. Bailey et al delight in following us around with the exact same nasty and bilious comments every time, but they don't realise how much they help us make our case.

I say "segment" of the marriage movement because not everyone who is for gay marriage is a right-winger and a lot of people, I find, are really trying to think through the options available to them, and marriage is often presented as the ONLY option. These folks are, in my experience, perturbed by the tone and strategies adopted by the mainstream gay orgs and their most fervent followers (and the straights are beginning to see that much of the gay marriage movement uses right-wing rhetoric and strategies). There's a considered and thoughtful set of discussions to be had around the priorities of the "movement" and the inchoate ways in which people have been persuaded that marriage is the only way for them to gain legal rights, although you wouldn't know that from comment threads on our blogs.

The LGBT community, such as it is, is growing increasingly disillusioned with the battle for gay marriage as the only struggle worth having. The acidity, vitriol, and desperate and failing attempts at sarcasm you are exposed to here is a sign of the seething discontent and anger of a segment of the gay marriage movement and its sense that it is losing ground. Well, that, and the fact that some folks have nothing better to do with their time than try to foment wars on teh internetz :)

On a positive note: Great piece, as always, and I can see that it's been making the rounds a lot on the internet. But I think your piece is having an emboldening effect on folks because of the ways in which it provides straight "allies" (an utterly fraught term, as you and Alex point out) an example of an optional way to support the queers in their lives. Again, I just love your mom's response!

Aaargh - meant to write: "I also think your piece is having an ..." Ignore the "but," which is a vestige of another sentence I was working on...

Yasmin, thank you for your brilliant breakdown of this whole scenario, I so appreciate your analysis!

And this is great to hear:

"But I think your piece is having an emboldening effect on folks because of the ways in which it provides straight "allies" (an utterly fraught term, as you and Alex point out) an example of an optional way to support the queers in their lives."

That's so great to hear -- and I guess it's why I included the anecdote about my mother, in spite of our, um, fraught relationship... if she can get to a place of skeptical critique, well there's some kind of hope!

"It's not like any of us living outside of Washington, Chicago or San Francisco finds anything useful or relevant in their commentaries."

Oh honey, I live in a tiny (well, it feels big to me, but that is a different story) town in the deep South and I think that Yasmin, Mattilda and Ryan all have fabulously relevant things to say.