[EDITOR'S NOTE:] This is a guest post from Wendell Ricketts, a fiction and nonfiction writer whose work has appeared in Blithe House Quarterly, The Advocate, Out, and many other publications. He edited Everything I Have Is Blue: Short Fiction by Working-Class Men about More-or-Less Gay Life and currently works as a translator and writer in Balogna, Italy. He blogs at Una Vita Vagabonda.
M's going to a wedding today, but I'm staying at home.
The bride is a college buddy of his, and a lot of M's friends--virtually none of whom I've ever laid eyes on--are going to be there.
Meeting M's friends would be an opportunity for me to feel more integrated into his ... context, let's call it. But today I'm staying home.
The problem isn't that I wasn't invited. Don't think that. I was invited--several times, and very sweetly, by M's friend who even called twice to make sure I didn't want to change my mind. "Tell him he can decide, even at the very last minute, if he wants," she assured M.
Me, though, I'm staying home today.
In the last thirty years, I've attended exactly three weddings, two straight and one gay. The gay one was the weirdest.
Really, though, I just don't do weddings. They're not my scene, not my thing, not my bag, not my tasse de thé, not my idea of a good time. In short, they seriously bug me. That's a small part of why, today, I'm staying home.
But not all of it. I haven't been that many places in the world, to tell the truth, but what I can say about Italy is that I've never been anywhere else where heterosexuality was so rigidly enforced or where straight couples were both so blissfully ignorant of the privileges they enjoy and so happy to take full advantage of them.
So I'll just admit it: I'm envious. I'm envious of the fact that straight couples are everywhere you look, walking hand in hand, smooching, making out, sitting on each other's laps, pressing up against one another, playing with each other's hair. Just like they do everywhere. But here: you can sit in the piazza all day long and you won't see any same-sex couples doing any of those things. Not one, not in the biggest cities in Italy.
If they did, not much would happen. I kiss M in public and I take his arm, more-or-less when I feel like it. No one has ever said anything. (People stare at you, but no one says anything.) I suppose there are fag bashers in Italy, but really: why would they need them?
Fag bashers only serve a social purpose when people feel that heterosexual privilege is being seriously challenged. Here, there's no challenge, so there's not much reason for anyone to get all violent. Anyway, when you've got the Pope doing all your fagbashing for you every time someone shoves a microphone in his wizened little face, why bother to get your hands dirty?
Anyway, more than envious, I'm just pissed off: I'm pissed off that we're assailed, every single day - Every. Single. Day. - in this country by idiots who harangue the Italian public from their television pulpits with the assertion that the family needs protecting, that the only meaningful cultural unit is the heterosexual couple with children. Actually, it's worse than that: they're not idiots. They're calculating, Machiavellian bastards who've got a fantastic public-relations strategy and have the media eating out of their hands. They're winning the culture war in Italy.
Yeah, I know: In America we're bedeviled by the Religious Right and our own rabid, home-grown "family protectors" (most of whom are people you really wish wouldn't breed). The difference is that there's a response in America, there's a counter-current, there's a recognition that bigots are bigots. In Italy, what there is, is silence and invisibility, there's "reasonable" disagreement, there's "respect" for the Church.
Speaking of which: the wedding that M is attending will take place, naturally, in a Catholic church. In other words, the couple intends to have their "union" sanctioned by the institution that cannot stop telling Italians that my relationship with M is sinful and, more importantly, that any social or legal protection of it is a clear and present menace to society and "the family."
M doesn't understand why I won't go to the wedding. For him, friendship trumps politics. And I don't understand why he won't stay home. If friendship is so important, why is his gal-pal asking him to attend a wedding mass in a Catholic church: a ceremony he isn't entitled to, in an institution that considers him--that considers us--evil, disordered, and dangerous?
If our straight friends genuinely cared about the situation we're in, they'd quit getting married. For our part, in the meantime, we have to stop letting them get away with acting like white South Africans who were "against" apartheid but still ate in whites-only restaurants and shopped in whites-only stores. We have to stop collaborating with the enemy.
As a political issue, frankly, marriage rights have never struck me as all that exciting. In fact, I remain pretty ambivalent about clinging to marriage as the last surviving plank in the disintegrated raft of a queer-rights movement in the United States.
But I'm sick of being lied about. I'm sick of the silence--on the part of Italian queers and their messed-up, disorganized, 1950s-style, self-hating, apologetic, internecine, spineless, conciliatory political organizing; on the part of "liberal" and "left" politicians who have turned into turncoats and cowards on the issue of queer rights; and on the part of straight people who claim to be so fag-and-dyke-loving and so "I'd like to teach the world to sing" liberal and so kumbayah free of prejudice that they'll even go so far as to invite a friend's male partner to their weddings.
It's not a principle if it doesn't cost you anything.
And that's why, today, I'm staying home.