Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Here I am on NPR, talking about -- yes, you guessed it -- marriage!!!

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | June 11, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: assimilation, gays in the military, marriage, National Public Radio, queer, that's revolting!

On Thursday, I was on the nationally broadcast National Public Radio program Tell Me More -- listen here, and tell me what you think...


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I listened the other day when Yasmin linked to the interview. I thought you gave a good interview. For the most part I agreed with what you had to say. It would be nice if the rest of the country was ready to "go there" with regard to universal health care and sweeping immigration reform. Expanding what family is from a legal standpoint would be a beneficial thing, I just don't see it happening in my lifetime. Good interview though.

Thanks, Greg -- it certainly does seem that the country is not going in the right direction, but of course that means it's all the more important to offer critiques -- or, at least that's how I see it...

GASP.... ten steps forward, twenty steps back.

I will tell you Mattilda what I tell the conservative Christians, "if you don't want a gay marriage, don't get one."

ShowMeNoHate, you illustrate one of my points perfectly -- whenever anti-marriage queers challenge the gay establishment, we're put in the same category as Christian fundamentalists. It's so much easier to win an argument with someone who thinks you're going to burn in hell, than to actually have a discussion between pro-marriage and anti-marriage queers. All the focus, resources, energy, etc. around marriage limits people's options, rather than creating more.

then how would you suggest that same-sex marriage becomes a reality if you don't want it? I'd like to get married someday to someone of the same gender. I don't want my government to deny me a marriage license based on a religious viewpoint that is not supposed to be espoused anyway. How would you suppose to go about that question or do you not want anyone else to have marriage rights and be happy for themselves? I get some of your arguments from previous posts of yours concerning identity, but generally, political movements have always had to move for gaining equality or recognition by emulating or coming close to being like the majority culture, or at least making most of what's not seen as too outlandish as a normalized part of culture.

Tlsmith, marriage is an outdated, oppressive institution, and it's time for it to go. Of course, I do think everyone should have access to the benefits that marriage can sometimes provide -- housing, healthcare, the right to stay in this country, someone to sleep with at night. If we look at the history of marriage, however, I think it's quite clear that "happiness" is certainly not part and parcel. In fact, some may argue that the two are antithetical.

It's true that mainstream political movements always seem to end up moving towards the goal of "gaining equality or recognition by emulating or coming close to being like the majority culture." To me this means cultural erasure in exchange for recognition, certainly a tragic com (and violent) promise.

My whole problem with this "radical queer" perspective is the same as the problem I have with Marxism and libertarianism: It looks like a good idea on paper, but it's unrealistic and owes more to the simplistic "perfect world" idealism of a 16-year-old than to the practical, nuanced thinking of an adult.

This is amply demonstrated by Mattilda's reply to tlsmith, wherein she responds to tlsmith's desire to marry by saying "it's time for [marriage] to go." All this tells me is that Mattilda subscribes to a fantastical worldview wholly disconnected from the real circumstances of real people that leads her to impose her personal views about marriage on others.

So Mattilda, Yasmin and R. Conrad are against marriage. Fine, that's their freedom, and they're free to pursue whatever political goals they want instead. But they fail to acknowledge reality: Marriage as an institution will likely be with us for many, many generations to come, and probably indefinitely. If it ever does "go" -- which I don't think it will in the foreseeable future -- it will do so on its own, not by being forcibly abolished and certainly not by keeping same-sex couples out of it.

Abolishing marriage would require a radical restructuring and reorganization of a society that is, whether the "radical queers" like it or not, geared toward marriage and the formation of stable families. Universal health care is a great idea, and I have no opposition to it, but that and related matters constitute only a fraction of the more than 1,100 legal rights and responsibilities that go to married couples. So far, I haven't encountered a comprehensive plan from the "radical queers" for distributing those in a way that is independent of marriage, avoids the need to file a huge mountain of paperwork and legal documents at a huge cost (which is what same-sex couples must currently do if they want even a small number of the rights of married couples like inheritance, hospital visitation, etc.) and also prevents abuses (like if anyone -- not just family -- can visit me in the hospital, how do prevent the guy who put me there in the first place from posing as my "friend" and visiting me in my coma to finish the job?).

All I hear is a lot of complaining...

Calm down, Alaric. Reeee-lax.

No one's calling for the abolition of marriage as the only solution - we're simply saying that it, as the primary way to accrue benefits, has got to go - and that it is going (fewer than 50% of Americans are married, more are divorced than ever before - even if some, including a growing percentage of women, do engage in serial marriages. But that last point only proves that marriage isn't giving people what they want.) So if you and your partner wish to have your relationship sanctified by the state AND have a ceremony on the Great Wall of China, no fears, your time will come. And you can already do the latter (and may already have), and the former is available to you in a few states. As Nancy Polikoff, well-known LAW PROFESSOR has stated and amply demonstrated: the United States is the only industrial nation to rely so much on marriage to guarantee so many essential benefits. Are we calling for the abolition of marriage? Yes, absolutely - but as the sole purveyor of rights. If you heard the interview - and I have a feeling you didn't - you'd know that Mattilda actually addresses that exact point.

As for "prevents abuses (like if anyone -- not just family -- can visit me in the hospital, how do [I] prevent the guy who put me there in the first place from posing as my "friend" and visiting me in my coma to finish the job?)." Right. Of course. Because...there are no abusive husbands who do that to wives/husbands, right? Who would be allowed to visit their spouses in the hospital because they're legally allowed to? (I recall you bringing up this exact same point, and Alex responding to you with the same counterpoint I just raised). There are lots of instances where close family and spouses should NOT have automatic rights just because they're family - talk to anyone who had to fight off the homophobic families of their loved ones (and by anyone, I mean FRIENDS, sometimes in groups, not just partners, who corralled their resources and time around a dying man) dying of AIDS as said families tried to garner control over apartments and estates and you'll know what I mean.

As for universal health care - a lot of people actually think that having a simple benefit like that, which could literally save them from poverty and even homelessness (expenses from health care are the leading causes of bankruptcy in this country) is a lot more preferable than marriage. And if you've been following any of the conversations around here, you know that a lot of people - queers! - favour employment non-discrimination benefits over fighting for marriage.

The times they are a-changing - and I think it's amply evident that support for gay marriage as the most important cause of the "movement" is fast waning in the face of a severe recession (and the awareness that GM is sucking community resources). And we are facing much harder times - the economic effects of the BP disaster will only be FULLY understood down the road. To put it bluntly, marriage ain't worth a thing if two people can't even scrape together a decent living for one. Or if neither has a job. None of those benefits mean anything to a lot of married couples who'd be just as happy unmarried but without worrying about the loss of health care, for instance. And I know too many people who've been compelled to marry for health care - and are desperately unhappy about being caught in that situation.

As for the 1000+ benefits: How about looking at it from the other side - why *should* married people get those benefits? And: Those are being whittled down and can be entirely restructured so that they are available to *everyone*, not just married people. For instance, you no longer need to be married to somebody to grant them hospital visitation rights.
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2010_04/023366.php

Similarly, all the other benefits you speak of can be and are granted to people in countries like Canada, without the earth swallowing anyone whole. Canada, the last I checked, is, well, doing relatively (key word: relatively) well. Canadian queers are not lining up to get married. Again, I encourage you to read the book "Beyond Gay and Straight Marriage" by distinguished LAW PROFESSOR Nancy Polikoff to see many fine examples of that, as well as her blog. In fact, as she points out, the hospital visitation rights issue was actually efficiently dealt with in, of all places, Utah (I believe I'm right about the state - it could have been Montana - at any rate, not the place you'd expect). No fuss, no muss, no expensive lawyers. A simple matter of a database.

"All I hear is a lot of complaining..." Yup. Same here. From you, Alaric. All I hear from you, constantly, is the exact same comment copied and pasted into every. single. post written by the (Un)Holy Trinity (Mattilda, Ryan C., and me). Which is fine. It gives us all a chance to amply refute your points for every successive generation of Bilerico readers. And I have to say it's kinda fun to know that we have such a unique place in your heart. But you might want to at least indicate, in your comments, that you're keeping up with the news and doing more than cutting and pasting. Otherwise, your complaining just seems so...2008.

Btw, I know you're not too far from 16 yourself - so I'm sure you remember that the average 16-year-old is more intent on finding yet one more image/plot/poster/video/game to masturbate to is far more important than any imaginings of a "perfect world." But, hey, if you happen to know some who are actually thinking about how to make the world a better place for everyone, married or not, could you point them my way? I'm always happy to recruit more youth for the many daring and radical queer projects I'm a part of.

P.S Listen to the show!

Totally agreed with everything you said.

I was super annoyed by how she kept emphasizing "she" when she used your pronouns. Every time she said it I saw little air quotes in my head. I think she meant well, but it was still annoying.

Christa, thank you!

And, that was interesting about the emphasis on "she" -- I think the interviewer was concerned that the audience wouldn't get gender nonconformity otherwise (thus the identity questions). Hmm... Or, perhaps that they would get too much of it :)

The conversation was fun, though -- I'm ready for more!

I enjoyed listening. I confess I know little about the perspective you are advocating. I guess I need to get a copy of your book.

Thank you, Deena! I look forward to more of your thoughts on the subject...

I turned it off when it came on the radio

You don't speak for me and your views and opinions are antithetical to my goal of marrying my my partner some day. But it's the zeal with which you deliberately play provocateur which totally turns me off.

Jay, so glad to hear it was on in your town!

Boy, you're just out there causing as much trouble and critical thinking you can, aren't you? I can appreciate that! :)

Thank you, Bil -- yay for trouble and critical thinking!

Just wanted to let you know that your interview came ringing through loud and clear while I was reading Howard Zinn talking about the origins of marriage in the colonies in "A People's History of the United States" this afternoon. Marriage is how the elites keep the unwashed masses in line. (that of course is a very rough paraphrase)

Thank you, Greg -- I always like it when my analysis is connecting with Howard Zinn :)