Ryan Conrad was in Washington, DC, on November 16, as part of the Against Equality tour. As some of you know, the Against Equality collective recently published our first book, Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage, an anthology of contemporary essays that trace a history of the gay marriage movement and provide searing analyses of how and why "equality" is a problematic framework that only perpetuates economic and other forms of inequality.*
In "The Marriage Fight is Setting us Back," John D'Emilio writes: "Please, can we speak the truth? The campaign for same-sex marriage has been an unmitigated disaster." The renowned historian then goes on to show that "...in the deepest, most profound sense, the campaign for marriage equality runs against history" and that "[s]ince the early 1960s, the lives of many, many heterosexuals have become much more like the imagined lives of homosexuals." This is borne out by the many cultural representations of heterosexual families that look nothing like the ideal claimed in such shrill and self-righteous terms by the modern gay family, the kind that you see in this saccharine series of images released by the Courage Campaign, titled "Please Don't Divorce...." (you can read Jessica Hoffman's short and excellent critique of that project here).
At our book events, Ryan's presentation on how the marriage movement is setting us back includes images from earlier and current television shows like My Two Dads, that clearly exemplify different ways for families to be. While in DC, his friend Alexandra found this astonishing 1984 episode of Kate and Allie, which further proves that the gay marriage movement is fighting for the kind of normalcy that most straight and queer people would rather leave behind. Here's the condensed version of the episode:
A plot summary for those who can't view it: Kate and Allie are two divorced women with three children between them who decide to combine their families and live together, in part to save money but also to gain the kind of emotional and social support they feel is lacking in culture at large (things were still rough for divorced women in the '80s). They have the perfect apartment but the landlady, a lesbian, wants to raise the rent because it's a single-family dwelling and she sees them as two distinct families. For a while, Kate and Allie pretend to be lesbians so they can keep the place. When the landlady finds out the truth, she's angry at their deception and says, "I am so tired of people who condescend to us just because we're different from them." Kate responds, "Wait a minute - you were ready to penalize us $648 dollars a month just because we're different from you."
Here's the rest of the dialogue:
Landlady: This apartment is a one-family dwelling.
Kate: Sure, as long as you get to say what a family is.
Landlady: Everybody knows what a family is.
Kate: A lot of people wouldn't consider a gay couple a family, but you two do. And now so do we.
Allie: A family is anybody who wants to share their lives together.
Kate: Right, raise their kids together. Put up with their craziness...
Allie: It's love that defines a family. and it can be any kind of love. Your kind, our kind, theirs.
Kate: Who's to say which kind of family is the best? You of all people ought to know that.
I love lots of things about this clip, not the least of which is Allie's line at the beginning, when she's trying to come to terms with the pretense: "I know I haven't done that much with my heterosexuality lately, but I'm not willing to give it up!" It also made me remember how much I liked the show, even though I only began watching it as reruns, long after it was canceled. I'll be netflixing it to see if it stands the test of time, but I do remember liking its humor and the sparkle and friendship between the two women.
And I love that the landlady refers to Miriam as "my lover." I'm struck by how many gays and lesbians these days have decided that there's something too demeaning, crude, sexual about "lover." As if using more neutral terms will convince straight haters that we don't actually, you know, fuck. The term has long been banned from the campaigns for gay marriage. We are much too respectable to actually have sex (a point explicitly celebrated by the recent film The Kids Are All Right, but that's another post).
This is, of course, a classic sitcom narrative with an easy-to-wrap-up-in-22-minutes "message." But it's also a great example of how heterosexuals have been working on expanding their definitions of family and love. In this episode, the lesbian landlady, egged on by her sweet and kind lover, concedes the point. Today, sadly, the gay marriage movement makes it impossible for her to call Miriam her lover. Or to ever see a pair of unmarried, heterosexual women who love each other as anything but bizarre anomalies.
*Some of the essays are archived on the website, but the book also includes a couple, including my introduction, that are only found in the book.