booknotes: hard to get

note: this post was originally written to be cross-posted at the family scholars blog. since I drafted it, the family scholars blog has gone abruptly on hiatus, so this review will only appear here at the feminist librarian.

Several weeks ago, when I reviewed Donna Freitas' book, The End of Sex, I linked out to an interview with Leslie C. Bell, author of the newly-released study Hard to Get: Twenty-Something Women and the Paradox of Sexual Freedom (University of California Press, 2013). Like Freitas, Bell studies the sexual habits of humans. A sociologist and psychoanalyst,  Bell became interested in modern relationship dynamics while working with clients in private practice in the Bay Area. Driven by a desire to better serve the women she counseled, Bell set out to explore how today's twenty-something women navigate sexual relationships -- from casual sexual encounters to long-term partnerships. Through extensive and multiple qualitative interviews with a diverse group of women*, Bell sought to understand how and why women made the choices they did about forming, maintaining, and ending sexual relationships.

Hard to Get is, overall, diagnostic rather than prescriptive. It seeks to identify the interviewees common struggles and strategies for addressing those struggles -- both strategies that increase her subjects' well-being and strategies that seem ultimately counterproductive. She sorts her interviewees by three relationship strategy types: the "sexual woman," who has prioritized sexual self-knowledge and pleasure, but resisted forming interpersonal attachments; the "relational woman," who seeks to maintain her intimate relationships, at times even at the expense of her sexual satisfaction; and finally "the desiring woman," who has (sometimes after one of the first two strategies failed) arrived in a place where she feels able to be an independent, sexually-assertive being and capable of intimate relationships without loss of individual identity or desires. 
One of the most interesting aspects of Hard to Get is that Bell's "desiring women" are, for the most part, women with queer sexual histories or identities.  She suggests, in her concluding chapter, that part of the reason queer women in her sample expressed a greater sense of well-being and relationship satisfaction was that their intimate relationships were less freighted with gender-based assumptions about what each partner wanted or needed. She makes a passionate plea for straight couples, as well, to pull away from gender-based assumptions about what "women" and "men" want in a partner, and instead approach one another as individual humans.
I actually noticed another commonality among the "desiring women" that had little to do with their adult sexual identities: many of them came from homes in which parents and/or step-parents modeled a great deal of gender independence -- that is, the ability to draw on human capacities, whether "feminine" or "masculine," which best served them in the situation to hand. Single fathers, for example, who knew their way around the kitchen and nurtured their daughters, and mothers who worked in gender-atypical employment. I suspect that this modeling, perhaps even more than the individuals sexual flexibility, might account for the "desiring" women's resilience and adaptability -- their willingness to meet a relationship partner on individual, rather than rigidly gendered, terms. 
One of my fears about this book was (and remains) that it perpetuates the pervasive and sexist assumption that relationship creation and maintenance is "women's work," that women suffer disproportionately in the absence of relationships, and that we should focus on women when asking questions about relationship success and failure. 
On the one hand, I can't fault Bell for choosing to focus her energies on women; we all have to create boundaries around our research topics in order to say anything meaningful about the data we collect. I think she does an excellent job of centering women without blaming or victimizing them. Bell's subjects actively create and narrate their own lives, even maintaining agency in situations where their choices are severely constrained (such as when they experience sexual assault). This saves the volume from being yet another hand-wringing polemic about "girls these days." Indeed, I really appreciated Hard to Get's feminist sensibility. Bell identifies as a feminist in her introduction, and refuses -- unlike many others who have explores this subject -- to play the "let's blame feminism!" game even when she is looking at the ways changing gender role expectations and sexual opportunities create new challenges. 
On the other hand, time and time again these women seem very much alone in their quest for mutuality. The men (in the lives of those who make connections with men) don't appear to be aware of their partner's struggles, engaged in finding solutions, or even. At the end of Hard to Get we aren't left a whole lot wiser about where these women, at least the hetero-minded among them, might find men with whom they could successfully connect. I find myself wondering, once again, about the emotional and relational lives of men -- and how their experiences fit within this puzzle. As long as straight men remain (by their own volition and/or by neglect) outside of the relationship discussions, it seems doubtful that much progress will be made resolving hetero relationship struggles.
In my last book review, folks at FSB appreciated my question, "Who would I recommend this book to?" So here is my response for Hard to Get: Bell's study should be required reading for anyone who has a scholarly or personal interest in how modern Americans are forming sexually-intimate relationships (and how we might do so more successfully). Bell's urge for us to move forward instead of backward in search of solutions to our relationship struggles is an important counterpoint to more conservative voices. Even if you end up disagreeing with her conclusions, her participants offer us valuable insights into how adult (not college-age) women think and feel about, and how they do, sexual relational intimacy.

*While all from roughly the same age cohort, and largely professional-class women in the Bay Area when they are interviewed by Bell, the participants are about half white and half non-white, half straight and half non-straight, and grew up in a range of different geographical and socioeconomic circumstances. This mix was a deliberate decision on Bell's part and, I think, strengthens her study immeasurably.


'the future of marriage' live-blog: introduction

Since I started guest-blogging for the Institute for American Values' Family Scholars Blog back in January, I've been meaning to read IAV founder David Blankenhorn's The Future of Marriage (Encounter Books, 2007). To the extent that David B.'s views on marriage equality have shifted since he authored this text it's outdated -- yet it remains an influential text. Furthermore, David himself has affirmed that he still believes in his central argument in the text: that access to marriage as a civil right (one "good") must be balanced with the rights of children to be raised by their biological male/female parents (another "good"). What he terms "goods in conflict."

So I felt that it was important to get a book-length sense of where he is coming from, as I have from reading his colleague Elizabeth Marquardt's One Parent or Five? study. So this morning at the local public library I checked out a copy of The Future of Marriage and sat down to read it with a cup of tea when we got home. I can tell right away I'll need to live-blog it, or a review will never happen (too much to talk back to / about) so I'm going to put together my informal thoughts chapter by chapter.

Here are my notes on the Introduction.

  • He makes the assertion that "marriage is fundamentally about the needs of children," as opposed to fundamentally about the needs of adults (2). I'm curious to see how this argument plays out across the book for a couple of reasons. First, because I wonder why we need to set up such a dichotomy (children vs. adults ... why not "marriage is fundamentally about the needs of human beings"?). Must it be an either/or? Second, if we were to accept that marriage, as a social institution, were "fundamentally" about the needs of children the question obviously arises as to the place in such a social institution for married couples with no children (and no capability for procreation and/or plans to  parent). Regardless of the sexual orientation of those non-parenting couples, one wonders how we understand their marriages. This is obviously a very personal question to me since I am a married person without a) the capacity to procreate with my spouse and/or plans to become a parent.
  • He introduces the "goods in conflict" framework, using the following example: "It is good to deter crime by punishing criminals; it is also good to forgive" (3). While he doesn't explicitly say so, I assume he believes this to be a self-evident example of two "good" things. I'd point out that this is not necessarily the case: not everyone agrees that either a) punishment actually deters crime, or b) that it is  always a good thing to forgive. Similarly, the two "good" things David suggests stand in conflict in the marriage debate are not always both seen as "good" goals. There are those who don't believe in privileging bio-parent families, and there are those who don't believe access to marriage for same-sex couples is a positive thing. So I will be interested to see how he speaks to this dis-unity on matters of social goods.
  • Why choose marriage as a key social issue? This is something I've been thinking about a lot since I started writing for FSB, where participants across the political spectrum seem to take the notion mostly as read that marriage as a social institution isn't only something we should all have the option to access, but also something which has broad social benefits. (The corollary to this is, of course, that marriage promoters spend a lot of time wringing their hands about peoples' reluctance -- at least the right peoples' reluctance -- to marry.). I obviously chose, in agreement with my wife, to become married. I do not, however, think of marriage as a blanket social good. I am skeptical of its powers for social betterment. If we are interested in enhancing the well-being of the greatest number of people, I don't think marriage promotion is a very efficient campaign -- nor do I like the way it overlaps so significantly with intrusive moralizing about peoples' personal life choices ("settle" for a man -- any man! -- before it's too late; marry your "baby daddy," "take responsibility" for your pregnant girlfriend, etc.). 
  • I was struck by the repeated use of the term "marriage" where the broader notion of "family" might actually be more appropriate? For example, "[Humans] have devised an institution to bridge the sexual divide, facilitate group living, and carry out reproduction. All societies have this institution. They call it 'marriage' " (5). I would have said, actually, that the institution in question is actually "family," and that "marriage" is one tool in the toolbox for creating family. It strikes me as a peculiarly American/Western way of conceiving of family -- as something that could be reduced to (or at least centers around) the married pair. In other times and places, the married pair has been subordinated to other familial structures. 
  • Does marriage "bridge the sexual divide" (5)? And what does that even mean? I actually suspect it means that the state of being married is society's way of ensuring that men and women (those oh-so-different creatures!) must  learn how to co-exist. I suspect this because it's an argument I've heard from sexual conservatives who preach gender complementarity. If we don't force hetero young people into "opposite"-sex pairings, what will the world come to!? Women and men won't know how to communicate or co-exist any more! For obvious reasons, I am skeptical that it is only through a normative culture of marriage that the differently-sexed members of our humans species would learn to get along.
  • David B. refers to the notion that marriage is "a commitment between two people ... an intimate, caring relationship ... an expression of love" as "inadequate" (9). Rather than "inadequate," I might have picked "flexible," or "big tent," or "pluralistic" (although one could quibble about the last, since it actively excludes more political-transactional notions of what marriage is for). It is interesting to me that David finds such general notion of marriage to be disturbing -- surely it leaves us all room to flesh out the particulars of our own family lives and values? To get too rigidly prescriptive about what marriage means for all people would be to define many people who currently marry out of the state of marriage. Which is not to say I don't, also, have boundaries in mind for what marriage is and is not -- but I think my line in the sand for actively policing those boundaries for other peoples' relationships falls in a very different place from David's. I will be interested to learn more about where his boundaries are (or were, circa 2007).
On to chapter one!


booknotes: does jesus really love me?

cross-posted from the family scholars blog.

On Friday, while stuck at home due to the "shelter in place" orders here in Boston, I read Jeff Chu's recent book Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America (Harper, 2013).

Part memoir, part ethnography, part journalistic endeavor, Does Jesus...? is more impressionistic than it is polemical or scholarly. Chu offers a series of portraits, featuring both people (pastors, congregants, ex-Christians, agnostics) and institutions (from the Metropolitan Community Church, overwhelmingly queer in membership, to the Westboro Baptist Church). Across sections titled "Doubting," "Struggling," "Reconciling," and "Hoping," Chu offers us a tour around America and the religious and sexual-identity spectrum  as well, introducing us to individuals and congregations wrestling with the relationship between faith and queer sexuality. Chu himself has settled into a life of being gay and Christian, he nevertheless draws empathic (if at times slightly baffled) portraits of LGBT individuals who have forged other paths: queer folks who have been driven from the church or simply drifted away, a gay man who has chosen to remain celibate, a straight woman and gay man in a "mixed orientation" marriage. While he features a few high-profile individuals (Ted Haggard, Fred Phelps, Mary Glasspool), more of the voices in Does Jesus...? are unknowns: the Bible teacher fired from his job for a same-sex affair, the closeted young adult wrestling with if, when, and how to come out to his parents and community, the Christian musician who describes with charming self-deprecation her first gig at a lesbian bar.

I found myself thinking, as I read, a very librarian question: to whom might I recommend this book? One of the pastors Chu interviews offers the following observation: she sees anti-gay Christians and affirming/welcoming Christians trying to have two very different conversations in their discussions around homosexuality. The anti-gay contingent, she maintains, is focused on scriptural authority. The affirming group is focused on stories -- on personal testimony. If this is true (though I'm not ready to buy the theory wholesale), then Chu's book will not have much success in convincing those who believe Christianity demands abstaining from same-sex sexual activity. It is not a work of exegesis, of Biblical interpretation. It is not making a theological argument. Rather, Does Jesus...? is offering us a chance to reconsider our simplistic notions of what "Christian" and "gay," and the assumption that there is but one type of relationship between the two: a repressive or alienated one.

This is an approach that I think might resonate more strongly with the "personal testimony" contingent. With LGBT folks who are, themselves, wondering, "Does Jesus really love me?" Or with queer activists asking how to engage American believers in the LGBT push for equality and acceptance. Or with unchurched/secular-identified queer folks and allies who see the church as bolstering anti-gay sentiment and are baffled why queer Christians seek to remain in the fold.

For example, as a queer woman who grew up in a conservative Christian community (in a region settled by the Reformed Church in America, Chu's present denomination!) and attended a college with deep RCA roots, one of the chapters which spoke most directly to my own experience was the chapter about Harding University.  Or, more specifically, Harding University's student-published Queer Press zine, created and distributed by queer students and alumni primarily to reach out to other (largely closeted) students on the conservative Christian campus. Not only did the creators face a backlash from the administration, they also discovered that their sectarian struggle didn't always translate very well before a secular audience:
[Secular] bloggers would praise the zine but add, "Why would you go to a school that doesn't accept you for who you are?" or "Why not just leave?" These questions reflect a different type of thoughtlessness. For one thing, Harding students are just like millions of others who depend financially on Mom and Dad [to attend college]. Then there's the fact that, again like millions of others everywhere, these students are in a season of fragility and flux. They're still wrestling with their identities, their faith, and their homosexuality, which may not even be acknowledge before college. As one puts it to me, "It's not like someone woke up one morning and said, I'm gay but I'm to go there and make my life suck."
When queer students and allies at my alma mater were making a concerted effort to get the Board of Trustees to revisit their official anti-gay stance, some high-profile queer-friendly blogs got wind of the struggle and there was a lot of puzzlement over why these students had enrolled in, or remained at, such a hostile institution. Setting aside the reality that secular institutions are not always bastions of acceptance themselves, it seems important for non-Christian LGBT activists and allies to remember that "Christian" is often as deeply-held an identity as "lesbian," "bi," or "gay." To ask a queer person raised Christian why they don't just quit their faith is profoundly lacking in compassion or understanding for the complexity of the human soul.*

Overall, I highly recommend Does Jesus..? to anyone interested in reflecting on the human face of the culture war (for lack of a better term) over sexual diversity in American Christianity. It might also, given its episodic nature, make for really good Sunday School or Church reading group material.

Related: For those unable to put their hands on a copy of the book, Chu was a guest on the Diane Rehm Show back in March, and it was an excellent conversation. You can listen to the audio or read a full transcript of the interview (your support for NPR at work!) courtesy of WAMU.

*On a side note, I know many feminists who've encountered similar disbelief that they choose to reconcile their religiosity and their feminism -- often, in fact, grounding their feminist values in their faith. It's fascinating to me that so many people on both sides (the religious side or the queer/feminist side) view these aspects of self as oil-and-water opposites.


a few more thoughts + cats and flowers

kumquats and plants in the kitchen window

Hanna and I are both finding today much more difficult, emotionally, than yesterday. Yesterday was a day of waiting: between 6am and about 7pm we were asked to stay indoors and essentially nothing happened apart from rampant media speculation.

Then at around eight in the evening, law enforcement officials caught the young man they were looking for hiding in a boat in Watertown.

He was taken to the hospital, injured, and will not be read his Miranda rights before being questioned.

this day needed flowers, so I went out and took pictures
Let me say, first, that I am grateful no more blood was spilled; no more life lost. I am glad that whatever threat this young man and his brother, killed in the chase, represented to the world is no more. I support preventing harm. I also support holding people responsible for their actions, though not through execution, so if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is, in fact, responsible for the marathon bombings I hope he is tried and a just verdict rendered. I also understand why many, many people are angry and afraid -- and why their first reaction is the desire for vengeance.

It's just that I rarely think we should act on our first reactions, or even our second. Perhaps our third or forth thoughts ought to be listened to, but sometimes we must practice patience longer than that. And Hanna and I find ourselves dispirited by the amount of anger and vitriol being spewed across the Internet toward this wounded teenager who -- presuming they have the right man -- did monstrous things, but is also currently alone, in pain, and no doubt terrified.

magnolias outside our apartment building
We've had people tell us we are monstrous ourselves for trying to practice empathy for both victims and perpetrators simultaneously; for suggesting that just because someone has done evil deeds does not mean they deserve questionably legal treatment or abuse. Suffering is sometimes necessary, but never justified, never right. And I question the wisdom of wishing it hatefully upon another human being, even if he himself has allegedly inflicted vast amounts of suffering upon others.

We do not wish to become a mirror to the very violence we profess to abhor.

teazle in the sun

I realize I am a minority voice, at this moment, and that my desire to practice nonviolence is no doubt seen by many as foolish, a position born of privilege.

Perhaps this is so. I am a Bostonian: I work half a mile from Copley Square, the marathon finish line, and live in a neighborhood just across the river from Watertown. I am not speaking from a place of geographical abstraction from the events of yesterday. Yet I was lucky enough that everyone I knew running the marathon escaped unscathed; I did not spend yesterday with tanks or SWAT teams in my street.

But I believe it is part of what I can offer, in these troubling days: mindfulness, and attention to the fact that all of us are flawed and broken. That law enforcement can make mistakes and act violently, that the civil rights of murderers should not be treated lightly, and that even those who inflict suffering can suffer in turn.

I have been trying hard (and believe me -- it is a discipline) to hold all those suffering, and all those struggling to make ethical decisions right now, in my thoughts and in my heart.

May we all move forward toward less hate and suffering.

And obviously, more kittens.

 And books.


some thoughts

flowering trees on the Charles River esplanade (May 2012)
Shortly before midnight last night Hanna and I started getting automated calls from Harvard University (Hanna works in their medical library) alerting staff to security concerns around MIT and in Cambridge and Allston-Brighton. Between midnight and six this morning we had maybe ten to a dozen such calls, making for a fitful night of interrupted sleep -- as helicopters droned overhead and sirens wailed in the night air.

A phone call just before six announced the University closed for the day; when WBUR clicked on at six o'clock, we heard our neighborhood of Allston-Brighton was one of the communities in lock-down, with residents asked not to leave their homes, and all public transit was suspended until further notice.

As most of you have probably heard by now, during the night two young men robbed a convenience store near MIT and shot an MIT security guard who attempted to intervene. The two suspects in the robbery -- now believed to be the suspects sought in relation to the Monday bombings at the Boston marathon -- escaped in a hijacked SUV to Watertown where there was an exchange of gunfire and some explosives thrown from the vehicle. One of the young men was shot by law enforcement officers and died in hospital. The other is still at large -- hence the city-wide shutdown as police attempt to track him down.

Hanna and I will be at home today. We are safe, with our cats, and the weather is beautiful. There is a coffee cake baking in the oven as I write this post.

The media, including NPR, are all going wild with speculations and scraps of information, so I'd like to take this opportunity to ask everyone to exercise patience as we wait. Patience, and hopeful intention that violence will not begat more violence.

Initially, people -- at least three of them -- died in the bomb blasts on Monday; the first act of violence. Over one hundred were injured, and currently struggling to heal.

One of those hundred-plus injured was a young man from Saudi Arabia whose ethnicity and presence at the scene of the blasts ("running while Saudi") led to further acts of violence: instead of being offered help and care for his injuries he was tackled to the ground, his apartment searched aggressively by investigators. It took them hours to clarify that he was not a suspect while the media coverage ran with the story of Islamic terrorists -- our favorite scapegoat du jour.

Then we had a high school track star, also darker skinned, who was the media's latest potential threat. His crime was, also, existing in public while young and male and not White.

Now we have these two young men, reportedly Chechen (the original Caucasians!), whose actions -- taken in a metropolitan area on edge -- have begat more violence. Obviously, their killing of the MIT security guard was wrong, and their actions in the wake of being caught in the midst of a robbery are only furthering the damage done.

But I worry about the way in which they're being so strongly linked to the marathon bombings.

I worry about the fact that one of the men -- said to be brothers -- has already been killed, in turn, by law enforcement.

I worry about what investigators, in their drive to find the bombers, will do in haste and violently.

I worry about the violence that may come from individuals and families that feel cornered.

While it is plausible, certainly, that these two young men from the 7-11 robbery were somehow involved in Monday's bombings, let's imagine for a second that they were not. Let's imagine they were out on a Thursday night and decided to rob a store (poor plan, but hardly an act of terrorism). Because they had guns, when they got caught by a guard one of them panicked and shot -- and killed. Now, of course, they're in deep shit on a number of levels, so the panic escalates ... and things get worse from there.

Again, perhaps the investigators have the right people. And regardless, even unconnected to the bombings, the young man still alive has participated in violence that warrants his arrest and trial for murder.

But I am skeptical enough of state power and the abuse of authority -- and the mobthink that happens when a community reacts defensively against a (real or perceived) threat -- that I will spend the day worried. And probably many days to come.

Today, I am going to try and hold in my thoughts all of the people caught up in this outbreak of violence. My hope is that we can prove the terrorists of the Boston marathon wrong by not becoming the world they sought to create: one in which violence begats violence and, exponentially, the trauma rises. My hope is that we will work with determination not to respond with force that mirrors the violence of those who maimed and killed less than a week ago.

I'd like to feel proud of my country and my adoptive city in a way I wasn't, so much, in the wake of 9/11 when our response was to go bomb Afghanistan and then start a war with Iraq.

So I will try to sit with hopeful intention, and work toward building a better -- less violent -- world.


BREAKING: new zealand lawmakers burst into song upon enacting marriage equality

(thanks to Hanna for the link!)

 On Wednesday, local time, the New Zealand House of Commons Representatives passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage (they have had civil unions for same-sex couples since 2005).

Upon declaration of the passage of the bill, the chamber burst into song. Here is a video, which I think is adorable and absolutely made my day.

Congratulations New Zealanders of all sexual identities and relationship types!

cross-posted at the family scholars blog.


movienotes: footloose and flashdance

This weekend, Hanna and I had a 1980s dance (movie) party with friends A'Llyn, Nathan, and their 1-year-old sprog who -- if his living room moves were any indication -- is going to grow up to be the next generation's Ren McCormack. We watched Footloose (1984), which has stood up surprisingly well, and Flashdance (1983), which has very much not -- although maybe I shouldn't talk since I never saw it in the actual 1980s and this was my first viewing. But those in the audience who had seen it as children confirmed that from an adult perspective it was even creepier than they remembered!

A few observations about first Footloose and then Flashdance. Spoilers below, fairly obviously, if you care.

Footloose I first saw at some point in my pre-adolescent period. The two things I remembered most vividly were John Lithgow's performance as the small-town pastor (whom child-me loved to hate) and the scene where Lori Singer, playing the preacher's daughter, climbs between her friend's car and her boyfriend's truck while they're driving down a two-lane highway. It's a scene meant to impress upon us that Ariel (Singer) is a thrill-seeking teenager, but mostly just terrifies me every time I have to watch it! Still, as I said above Footloose still has charm and, think time around, I was struck by a few things I hadn't noticed, or experienced differently, as a child.

  • John Lithgow's pastor, Rev. Moore is less fire-and-brimstone than he is sad as a character. In fact, we took to referring to him as "sad John Lithgow" every time he showed up in a scene. The film-makers couldn't seem to decide whether they wanted to make him a petty tyrant or a fearful father ... and ended up trying to go for both with only middling success.
  • Kevin Bacon's Ren is, like, the most polite Big City Rebel ever. Seriously. He wears a suit and tie to school on his first day, and when he decides to enlist the high school seniors to defy the town prohibition against dancing he ... wears the suit and tie to a town council meeting and reads a speech in defense of their case. He refuses to smoke pot, even when a local bad boy foists a joint on him, and chills with his little cousins. 
  • Domestic and intimate partner violence get a look-in, although not much of a mention. On the one hand, we have John Lithgow's character smacking his daughter across the cheek for talking back to him (probably part of what cemented him in my childhood head as an Evil Character). On the other, we have Ariel's truck-driving boyfriend who beats her up when she breaks up with him. She takes a pipe out of the back of his truck and smashes his windshield and headlights. He gives her a bloody nose and a black eye. The situation is clearly being set up as the negative contrast to Ariel's eventual relationship with Ren, but it's also treated like a weird side-point that's never substantively addressed.
  • The teenagers get a surprising amount of support from the surrounding adults -- for a town where supposedly dancing is Of The Evil. Ren's mother is fired from her job at one point because her son is causing trouble, and the relatives they're staying with get momentarily judgy. But, like, the mill owner Ren works for after school offers his building for the dance, and Mrs. Moore sticks up for her daughter and the other students at a couple of key points. 
  • Reverand Moore draws the line a burning books from the library, which is sweet but also makes his prohibition against dancing as a sin nonsensical. He's set up at the beginning of the film as the Big Baddie, only to emerge toward the end as one of the primary advocates for the teens. It's disconcerting.
  • And Ren McCormack has more chemistry with his new BFF, Willard, than he ever has with Ariel. The scenes where Ren is teaching Willard to dance have more spark in them than any other scene in the film, frankly, and I'm started to find that there is no fan fiction fleshing this romance out on AO3. Fan writers, you've let me down!

So overall, Footloose is dated and cheesy -- but aged surprisingly well.

The same can most decidedly not be said for Flashdance, which sadly starts out with the promising fact that its female lead, Jennifer Beals plays a welder named Alex Owens who -- in addition to holding down a solid, skilled (and I'd bet unionized) working-class job -- dreams of successfully applying to the Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance. Even the fact that Alex moonlights as an "exotic dancer" (but OMG not a stripper!!) wouldn't on the face of it be enough to kill the film -- this could have been one of your predictable "triumph over obstacles"-cum-marriage-plot movies, wherein the girl wins the guy and the chance to study ballet at the school of her dreams.



  • There's this small problem with the love interest being her boss at the building site where she's working. And, like, a major stalker with the world's creepiest vibe ever. Starting with the fact that he approaches her at work the day after having seen her dance at the dive bar where she works. So, you know, his interest in her as a person has this double creeptastic factor of "I've seen you dance practically naked and I thought that was hot, wanna date?" blended with, "I'm your boss and I've just disclosed to you, on the job where I'm supervising you, that I showed up to watch you dance practically naked and I thought that was hot and want to date you."
  • Ms. Owens (yay feminism!) tells him quite firmly no, she doesn't date the boss. So he follows her home from the site at night in his car, while she's riding her bike, and propositions her again. When she insists she doesn't date the boss he fires her so they can do on a date together the following night.
  • Although she blows him off, she apparently thinks better of it 'cause the following night they're on a date!
  • And on that "first date" there's this truly excitingly horrible you-can't-look-away-from-it scene wherein Alex takes Mr. Manager back to her (loft porn!) apartment for pizza and walks back into the living area in a black negligee and grey warm-up sweater (see DVD cover photo) and proceeds to take her bra off from under her sweatshirt. Our entire audience sort of couldn't believe it was happening. Not that slutting it up for your partner isn't fun sometimes, but this was a first date with a stalker boss and the whole thing felt way too close to a professional strip tease. (Needless to say, they proceed to have sex.)
  • Long story short, she continues to perform sexually for him (and I'm framing it like this deliberately -- all of their private interludes are echoes of her on-stage performances) and lo and behold he has connections at the Conservatory. So he makes a few calls and she gets an audition!
  • Although Alex protests, nominally, over the wheeling and dealing, in the end she goes to the audition anyway and presumably wins a spot in the Conservatory. We never actually get to find out, since the closing shots are of her making out with her sugar daddy.
I think what was so frustratingly, jaw-droppingly bad about Flashdance was that with a few tweaks it could have been a charming, though obviously cliched, romantic comedy. Make the love interest someone other than her boss. Make him someone who didn't proposition her after seeing her perform. Make it clearer what dancing means to her, and dis-entangle the patronage from the romantic relationship. Could her boss at the construction site see her perform and, oh, incidentally, know someone who knows someone ... without sex being used as such overt currency? So it was like two degrees away from being a movie that was meh but not actually cringe-inducing, and ended up just being bad. No cookies, people. No cookies.

Next time around, I think we're gonna go with Alien and Terminator.


adventures in being (gay) married: filing our tax returns

As we were married in September, this was our first tax year filing as (gay) married folks instead of white bread single people. And basically, it's a mess. It's such a mess that when you Google "same sex marriage tax filing" or similar, you get directed to a bunch of information by sites like H&R Block and TurboTax that describe the situation and basically end up saying, "We don't exactly know -- but it's complicated."

So I thought I'd share a little about our process: how it worked, what my frustrations (as the preparer for our household) were, and how we actually came out in the tax department as a (gay) married couple versus what the numbers would have been like had we been possessed of more, shall we say, diverse anatomy.


We talked to a bunch of people, and poked around online, and basically it boiled down to this:

1. We each had to prepare and file federal tax returns "as if" single, because thanks to DOMA the federal government thinks we are single -- or is at least legally bound not to recognize our marital status.

2. Then, we had to prepare a third federal tax return as a married couple -- but not file it. This return provided the calculations for completing...

3. ... our forth form, the state return, for which we could file as married (because we are). We could have chosen "married, filing jointly" or "married, filing separately." This year, we chose to file jointly. To be certain whether this was the optimal choice, we would have had to complete two additional forms and I just didn't have it in me.

So once we'd gathered all the necessary forms and numbers (W-2s, 1099-Misc, 1098-Es, proof of health insurance, professional expenses, etc.) it was time to get started.

I chose to go with TurboTax again, as I have for the past five years or more, mostly because I'm familiar with the interface and I didn't want one more new variable to work with. I use the online version, Free Federal and Basic editions (we had to use Basic for Hanna's federal and our joint return because some of Hanna's income is technically self-employment income).

TurboTax does offer a desktop edition that, they claim, can streamline all of this same-sex marriage filing hijinks, but I was wary of upselling -- if you've ever used TurboTax, you'll know they take every opportunity to promote the next level of service / additional products that add to your bill. We could have saved some fees this way, so if we're still in DOMAland next year, I'll probably go with the desktop version.

In order to file while (gay) married online you have to open three separate accounts: one for each of your federal returns, and one for the married state return. Each of these will entail fees based on the level of complexity of your return. For ours, we paid for one Free Federal ($32.99) and two Basic ($56.98), for a total of $146.95.

Remember: TurboTax charges for preparing not filing your taxes, so in all cases you'll be paying the fees for both federal and tax forms, even if though you will not be filing half the returns prepared.

As a straight-married couple, we would have paid only $56.98 to file a joint return through TurboTax online.

I won't go through the step-by-step of entering your information -- y'all know how to do this. TurboTax is occasionally over-helpful, occasionally under-helpful when it comes to the same-sex marriage situation. The interface repeatedly reminded me not to file the "dummy" state and federal returns, but when it came time to actually file them, I had to check and double-check and force them to let me "print to file by mail" the returns we weren't actually filing. There was no option to simply not file due to being gay married. And, as I pointed out above, even though there's no need to prepare or file individual state returns, TurboTax wouldn't let us not prepare them alongside our individual federal returns (an option which would have saved us about $65.00).

So that was the TurboTax experience; what about the actual tax cost/benefit of being gay married?


Without getting into the tedious details, Hanna and I -- as a couple -- made a little over $54,000.00 this year as a household. I brought in slightly more and Hanna slightly less, a fact that only really matters (since we pool all our earnings in shared accounts) because at some point our marital status could determine which tax bracket we fall into -- and if DOMA is still in place, we won't be able to take advantage of that marriage entitlement.

For example, according to Wikipedia, as a single person (my federal legal status under DOMA), my tax rate jumps from 15% to 25% once my annual income is above $36,250 -- which it will be for the 2013 tax year. As a married couple, our tax rate would stay at 15% until our combined income rose above $72,500. This difference was established back when the majority of married couples had one earner (usually the husband) who brought in the primary income, while the other earner (usually the wife) brought in supplementary income. It's an attempt to recognize that a married wage-earner with dependents to support, even if only a spouse with a lower income, often has more cost-of-living expenses than a single person: that $36k or $76k per annum has to go further.

Of course, at the level of income Hanna and I are bringing it, we aren't seeing a yawning chasm between what we would have paid and what we actually paid. Between deductions for student loan interest payments, retirement savings, and health insurance premiums, the difference between our federal "as married" and "single" tax returns amounted to about $200.00.

In other words, without DOMA on the books we probably could have bought that armchair from IKEA we've got our eye on.

According to TurboTax, our "effective tax rate" (once all our deductions and credits are taken into account) as a married couple would have been 7.66%. Hanna's "as single" effective tax rate this year was 6.08% this year and mine was 9.09%. Basically, for our household, filing as married would be the most accurate reflection of the fact that our financial resources are pooled, supporting two adults (and two cats!) equally rather than one individual and another individual

There are people who argue that such marriage-based tax benefits (or, for some, "penalties") should be abolished. They certainly have a case to make. But the point is that under current tax law and DOMA, Hanna and I are treated differently from other married couples solely on the basis of our sex.


friday morning cats ... and birthday gifts! [photo post]

I started the week out with a photo post, so I thought I'd round the week out with one as well.

Gerry and Teazle have taken to our new couch set-up with alacrity.

We put a long pillow and blanket along the back of the couch / window sill and they snooze there all the time in the sun (when not stalking birds through the glass!).

Teazle's latest trick is to scale the scratching post and balance there; on Wednesday she became all entranced by a nature special on PBS featuring wolves ... perhaps she is a were-cat?

As you know, it was my 32nd birthday at the end of March, and I am still celebrating as sweet gifts arrive. Look! I have TARDIS socks!

... and my first-ever pair of Doc Martens! (thanks Grandma!)

And from Austin, Texas, a beautiful pair of ceramic earrings from my sister:

Spring is here, and yesterday's warm weather prompted the dogwoods outside our apartment building to hint at blooms ...

I with you all a restorative weekend, wherever you may be.


the feminist librarian's bookshelf: five women's lives

cross-posted from the family scholars blog.

March was women's history month and this post was supposed to go up the week of March 25 ... but the last couple of weeks have gotten away from me. So here is the second installment of The Feminist Librarian's Bookshelf -- the March edition in April!

The theme this time is women's history and I chose to highlight five biographies or autobiographies by and about women whose lives and work have left an impression upon my own sense of "how to live?"

If I had to draw out some common themes from across these women's lives I would say that some of the characteristics that unite this women are: leftist-radical politics, a vision for more equality and well-being (of many kinds)  in the world, and unconventional personal and family relationships.

Sylvia Pankhurst, 1909
Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960). Sylvia Pankhurst: A Crusading Life by Shirley Harrison (Aurum Press, 2003). An often-overlooked member of the notorious Pankhurst family, Sylvia Pankhurst was the second daughter of women's rights activists Emmeline and Richard Pankhurst. Her elder sister Cristabel would become famous on both sides of the Atlantic for her political theater. Sylvia was deeply involved in her family's feminist activism, but eventually loosened her ties with them as Britain's entry into the First World War exacerbated their differences over tactics and priorities. Sylvia pursued her own work in London's impoverished East End, publishing a journal called the Women's Dreadnaught, providing affordable meals and health services as well as supporting efforts to organize labor unions. Further radicalized by the Great War, Sylvia became an increasingly outspoken peace activist and also a critic of British imperialism. In the 1930s she became involved in anti-colonization activism, principally in support of Ethiopian independence; she would eventually make her home in Ethiopia. 

Sylvia never married, though she sustained two long-term relationships: the first with Labour Party founder Keir Hardie (though there is no conclusive evidence the two had a physical relationship), and the second with Italian anarchist Silvio Corio. Sylvia and Silvio lived together for over thirty years (until his death) and Sylvia gave birth to their son, Richard, in 1927. Reportedly, it was Sylvia's refusal to marry Silvio which caused the final rupture with her parents and elder sister Cristabel. I am fascinated by the way the story of this particular radical Pankhurst daughter is so often eclipsed by the high-profile lives of her mother and sister who were radical on the subject of suffrage but reactionary and chauvinistic in many other ways.

Dorothy Day (1897-1980). The Long Loneliness (Harper and Row, 1952). Catholic activist Dorothy Day began her career in political struggle as a journalist  in the Lower East Side of New York City where she covered labor and feminist activism for such eminent socialist newspapers as The Liberator and The Masses. During this period Day was in a serious relationship with fellow leftist Forster Batterham, though her increasing interest in Catholicism put a strain on their relationship and by the time Day gave birth to their daughter, Tamar, she and Batterham were no longer a couple. Several years after Tamar's birth, in the depths of the Great Depression, Day met French emigre and eccentric intellectual Peter Maurin; the two formed a friendship which would become the foundation from which Dorothy Day pursued her social justice work. Together, they began publishing The Catholic Worker and eventually expanded their efforts to provide meals and shelter to the destitute in a communal setting.  The Catholic Worker Movement is still extant today, maintaining uneasy ties to the Catholic church.

Throughout the Second World War, Day and her fellow Workers maintained a commitment to pacifism, and following the war Day was arrested numerous times while on nonviolent protest against the Cold War and nuclear proliferation. They also became involved in the Civil Rights movement. There is a movement within the Catholic church to have Dorothy Day canonized as a saint, although throughout her life she resisted efforts to describe her work as somehow super-human, miraculous or otherwise noteworthy. I am a troubled admirer of Dorothy Day, whose complicated relationship with the feminist activism of her day makes her a difficult ally in many ways -- even as she dedicated her life to lessening human suffering of many kinds.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962 ). A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by Mary Ann Glendon (Random House, 2001). I have never been particularly interested in Eleanor Roosevelt as a public personage -- though the two-volume biography by Blanche Weisen Cook is a tour de force -- but a history professor at my undergraduate college once made me a gift of this slim historical study of Roosevelt's role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It's not a biography per se, but I include it here because I think it captures a unique historical moment in the twentieth century through the lens of one woman's involvement. The UDHR was drafted by an international committee in the "pause" between World War Two and the height of the Cold War, and represents the hubris of the West (particularly the United States) in believing they could create a truly "new" internationalist, peaceful, humanitarian world -- as well as the pragmatic reality of international politics which demanded compromise of that vision in order to produce anything of use.

Even if you are a skeptic of the United Nations, of internationalism, and/or not a fan of Eleanor Roosevelt, I think there is much to learn from this particular chapter in our political past.

Margaret Mead (1901-1978). Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years  (William Morrow, 1972). I first encountered Mead's story in college while working on an independent study on the first generations of women college graduates. Mead was the daughter of two academics -- her father was a professor of economics and her mother a sociologist. Her childhood was spent in and out of formal schooling as her family moved around the country, and she spent a year at DePauw University in Indiana before transferring to Barnard College (then a young upstart of a women's college in cosmopolitan New York). She went on from Barnard to study under anthropologists Franz Boaz and Ruth Benedict, earning her PhD from Columbia University in 1929. Mead is best known for her study of adolescent girls in Samoa, Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), although her anthropological curiosity ranged far and wide. While some of her frameworks for understanding feel outmoded today, she was instrumental in making the lives of women and children a legitimate field of study.

In Blackberry Winter Mead suggests a connection between her wide-ranging study of human cultures and her own exploration of relationships and family life, which took a decidedly unconventional path. Married while in graduate school (she refers in Winter to her "student marriage"), she and her first husband parted apparently amicable ways before she left for her fieldwork in Samoa. Her second marriage was equally short-lived and rocky by all accounts, ending in 1935. British anthropologist Gregory Bateson was her third husband, and the only spouse with whom she had children -- a daughter, Mary, whom she gave birth to in 1939. Mead also had long-lasting, passionate relationships with Ruth Benedict and another anthropologist, Rhoda Metraux, although the extent to which either relationship was sexually intimate is up for debate.

Gerda Lerner and her husband Carl, 1966 (via)
Gerda Lerner (1920-2013). Fireweed: A Political Autobiography (Temple University, 2002). When historian Gerda Lerner passed away on January 2 of this year, her obituaries widely proclaimed her one of the founding mothers of the field of women's and gender history. Without question, it is thanks to Lerner and her pioneering cohort of historians who insisted on gender as a valid category of analysis that I am able to do what it is that I do and be taken seriously as a scholar. Yet what I think is even more intriguing is the political and social milieu that such a scholar came out of -- and it is this "pre-history," if you will, that Fireweed sets out to tell.

Gerda Lerner (nee Kronstein) was born in Austria on the eve of the Second World War, was a student activist against the Nazi party (a form of political participation that landed her in jail when she was seventeen), and escaped to the United States as a refugee in 1939. She married the boyfriend with whom she had fled to America, but the marriage did not last by the mid-1940s she was married to Carl Lerner, a director in theater and later film, and an active Communist. Husband and wife shared a common political cause and throughout the 40s and 50s they worked side by side (with their children in tow) on behalf of labor, civil rights, peace, and against McCarthyism. Lerner did not return to school until she was in her 40s, earning her PhD from Columbia University in 1966 with a dissertation examining the work of Sara and Angelina Grimke, two white Southern women who had found it in themselves to agitate against slavery. Lerner was 46 years old.

I think what I find most compelling about Lerner's biography is its testament to the human capacity for "second acts," if you will -- that a life so filled with political struggle and the daily grind of survival could change direction at the midpoint and channel that energy into scholarship that was, perhaps, quieter than high-stakes anti-Nazi activism or labor organizing (certainly involving less jail time!) but was just as revolutionary in its own way.

This list is obviously limited by my own inclinations and concerns. I am conscious that of these five women, all are white and middle class by upbringing and education if not by fiscal measures. Although only three of the five are American by birth, the other two are Western European. None lived the majority of their lives in a same-sex relationship, although at least two women (Mead and Roosevelt) appear to have "swung both ways," holding passionate attachments to both women and men during their lives.

What biographies and autobiographies of and by women have you found meaningful in your own life? What women in history speak to you?


monday morning cats [photo post]

It's gonna be a slow blogging week, folks, since I haven't had the time recently to queue posts for publication. In the meantime, enjoy gratuitous cat pics (and the spring sunshine!)

Teazle loves to use our bedroom shelves as a jungle gym.

Teazle and Geraldine like to take every opportunity to steal the couch from us when we aren't looking. Off to the kitchen to make dinner? The couch is ours!

And then, of course, they lull us into submission with their adorable nose-to-nose kitty napping.

Wiley cats.


subject/verdict: stuff I've been reading in two-sentence reviews

Teazle likes to help me with my book reviews.
Despite the fact that my GoodReads reading goal is judging me fiercely (I'm a woeful books behind so far this year!), I have read a fair number of titles since January 1st that I simply haven't had the chance to blog about. And those books, too, are judging me for the lack of reviews. Because time is short, here are my two-line summaries of the stuff I've been reading -- one sentence for content, the other for my "verdict." I hope those thoughts spur some of you to add a title or two to your "to read" list!

A couple of titles will get actual honest-to-god reviews in the fullness of time, and I've noted which ones those be.

Bell, Leslie C. Hard to Get: Twenty-Something Women and the Paradox of Sexual Freedom (University of California Press, 2013). Sociologist and psychotherapist Bell explores contemporary sex and relationship patterns among a group of young women in the Bay Area as a way of identifying larger themes of change and struggle in our half-finished revolution in gender role expectations and sexual mores. While necessarily limited in its scope, Hard to Get is refreshingly non-judgy about young women's sexual practices and while Bell doesn't articulate her findings in quite this way, I would argue that her subjects' relationship success is strongly correlated with the degree of gender independence they and their sexual-romantic partners enjoy. [Review to come.]

Berebitsky, Julie. Sex in the Office: A History of Gender, Power, and Desire (Yale University Press, 2012). Historian Berebitsky has written an insightful and entertaining history of wanted and unwanted (hetero)sexual expression in white collar settings, 1860s to the present. Beginning with the entrance of women into office work, Berebitsky explores how the newly-heterosocial white collar workspace led to a reconceptualizing of the office as a space for flirtation, romance, and exploitation, as well as attempts to police heterosexual interaction in complex and evolving ways.

Boylan, Jennifer Finney. Stuck in the Middle With You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders (Crown, 2013). A raw feeling memoir about parenting as a transgender person, Stuck in the Middle combines first-person narrative with transcripts of interviews Boylan conducted with friends and acquaintances about fatherhood, motherhood, and parent-child relationships. While I felt it could have used a stronger editorial hand and guiding purpose, I particularly appreciated the interview sections. [Reviewed in slightly more depth at LibraryThing.]

Brownson, James V. Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church's Debate on Same-Sex Relationships (W. B. Eerdman's, 2013). Brownson, a New Testament theologian, grounds his case for the inclusion of same-sex sexuality within the realm of Christian sexual ethics in a close reading of the Biblical texts from a historically-minded, broad-themes perspective. While he often concedes too much to anti-gay conservatives, in my opinion, and draws too little on the work of queer and feminist theologians who have gone before him, hopefully his skillful and compassionate hermeneutics will encourage some to rethink their faith-based condemnation of homosexuality. [Full disclosure: Jim is the father of a good friend of mine, and holds a faculty position at Western Theological Seminary named for my late grandfather James I. Cook, who I feel confident would approve of this book.]

Corvino, John. What's Wrong With Homosexuality? (Oxford University Press, 2013). Corvino's apologetic on the subject of homosexuality is at once personal, grounded in his own experience as a gay man, and theoretical, drawing on his training as a professor of philosophy and ethics. I appreciated that Corvino thoughtfully acknowledged his focus on gay male sexuality, and while I doubt his arguments will convince anyone with an emotional-personal stake in animosity toward queer folks it is enjoyable to have someone so articulate on our side. [To be reviewed.]

Grogan, Jennifer. Encountering America: Humanistic Psychology, Sixties Culture, and the Shaping of the Modern Self (New York: Harper Perennial, 2013). In a book I devoutly wish I could have read while crafting my thesis, cultural historian Jennifer Grogan explores the origins, insights, and effects of one of the partial revolutions of mid-twentieth-century America: the humanist psychologists' campaign to re-form the practice of psychology and the modern concept of the human Self. Grogan is a skillful historian and writer who manages to write with deep sympathy for her subject without glossing over the limitations of her subjects' vision and practice.

Kipnis, Laura. Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America (Grover Press, 1996). In the wake of the "porn wars" of the 1980s and the resurgence of moral panic around sexual expression, Kipnis, a professor of media studies, pushed back against the conflation of fiction and reality in Bound and Gagged: how acceptable or tenable is it to police peoples' fantasies, and to what extent is it fair to assume that peoples' fantasies translate into real-world desires? In case-study fashion, Kipnis points to the way America in the mid-90s was (and still is) appallingly comfortable policing the imagination, particularly where sex is concerned.

Lepore, Jill. The Story of America: Essays on Origins (Princeton University Press, 2013). Historian and masterful essayist Jill Lepore offers, in her latest book, a series of essays that first appeared in the New Yorker on various topics on American history. All revolving in some way around the printed word and the narratives we tell to make meaning of our lives, The Story of America explores how we have made sense of being American during the first 24 decades of our nation's youthful existance.

Pleck, Elizabeth M. Not Just Roommates: Cohabitation after the Sexual Revolution (University of Chicago, 2012). Historian of human development Elizabeth Pleck explores an under-studied aspect of the mid-twentieth-century's "sexual revolution": the rise in cohabitation by sexually-intimate yet unmarried partners, and the continued discrimination unmarried couples face in our marriage promotion-happy nation. Roughly chronological in its organization, Not Just Roommates begins with the persecution of cohabiting interracial couples in the early 1960s and ends with activism around domestic partnership registration as a marriage alternative -- laying out a convincing case for discrimination against the unmarried as pervasive and harmful in the lives of many. [Review to come.]

Speck, Jeff. Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012). Urban planner Jeff Speck offers lessons from several decades of experience redesigning urban core areas on how to make our major metropolitan areas more environmentally sustainable and conducive to human well-being. While I quibble with some of his minor points (for example he finds extensive green spaces boring), his overall vision of a "walkable" urban environment is one I can get behind, and reading this book has prompted me to be more mindful of my own built environment -- and proud of how walkable our Allston-Brighton-Brookline-Back Bay area of Boston truly is!

Tea, Michelle, ed. Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class (Seal Press,  2003). This powerful anthology offers up diverse voices of women who experienced a working class, and sometimes destitute, childhood. Contributors' stories range from stomach-turning accounts of abuse and neglect at the hands of healthcare providers to lighthearted tales bordering on the "we were poor but never knew it" to deeply thoughtful reflections on what it means to escape poverty even as you watch your parents continue to struggle: highly recommended.

Williams, Linda. Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of the Visible" (University of California Press, 1989). Pioneering scholar in the field of pornography studies, film studies professor Linda Williams explores "hard core" moving image pornography through the lens of film conventions, asking how it might be understood as a genre in its own right (my favorite chapter was the one that explored pornographic film as a sister-genre to the movie musical, a bare-bones narrative punctuated by sexual "numbers"). While some of her observations feel outdated in this age of the Internet, and I'd argue she concedes too much to the anti-porn feminists, Williams' work is still key in the field and offers much food for thought.


what matters in "gay marriage" - "gay" or "marriage"?

cross-posted from the family scholars blog

I often joke with friends and family about how my wife and I are "gay married," as if this is something different from being ... "married." Perhaps we same-sex couples do everything with our sexual orientation front and center? In that case, this past weekend I celebrated a gay birthday by going gayly out to dinner at a restaurant. I did some gay crocheting, took a gay nap, and wrote a few gay letters to friends.

This is, by and large, a lighthearted amusement. But the "joke" is also grounded in our bone-deep recognition that some people do view every aspect of our lives as unalterably tattooed by our sexual "perversions." Our being gay -- or practicing gay sex -- is the attribute that marks us out for differential treatment. Some people would argue it requires differential treatment.

I thought of this other, less amusing use of the phrase "gay marriage" or "same-sex marriage" last Friday when I listened to an On Point news hour reviewing the Supreme Court oral arguments on DOMA and Proposition 8.  The host, Tom Ashbrook, spoke with two guests -- law professors Suzanne Goldberg (pro-marriage equality) and Teresa Collett (anti-) -- about the arguments. In discussing DOMA, Collett followed the lead of defense lawyer Paul Clement, representing BLAG, in arguing that what the DOMA law sought to achieve was not any sort of discrimination between gay and straight marriages, but rather to impose legal uniformity.

From the oral argument transcript (p. 62-63):
Mr. CLEMENT: ... Ms. Windsor wants to point to the unfairness of the differential treatment of treating two New York married couples differently, and of course for purposes of New York law that's exactly the right focus, but for purposes of Federal law it's much more rational for Congress to -- to say, and certainly a rational available choice, for Congress to say, we want to treat the same-sex couple in New York the same way as the committed same-sex couple in Oklahoma and treat them the same. Or even more to the point for purposes -­

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: But that's begging the question, because you are treating the married couples differently.
I want to point out a couple of features of this exchange.

The first is that Clement (and Collett, on air) are attempting to erase the anti-gay sentiment that animated the passage of DOMA, something which Justice Kagan highlighted when she read aloud from the House Report during the argument (see p. 74 of the transcript). This "softer" argument makes the case that what the federal government really wanted was sameness -- equality if you will! -- so that despite marital diversity at the state level, the federal government would only recognize certain types of marriage as actually legal nationwide.

I find this in itself disturbing, in that it attempts to turn DOMA into something that's almost supposed to benefit same-sex married couples rather than harming them -- as if we're supposed to be comforted, somehow, that our citizenship rights will be the same nationwide ... by ensuring that no matter what level of relationship recognition our state of residence provides us, we'll be firmly denied recognition at the federal level. Consistently.

Equality! Yay! .... oh, wait.

The second (and I think key) feature of this uniformity framing, and the exchange Clement had with Justice Sotomayor above, is that Clement is emphasizing the gay part of being "gay married" and Sotomayor is emphasizing the married part of being "gay married."

Clement is arguing that regardless of whether a same-sex couple lives in Massachusetts (where we can legally marry), in Illinois (where they have civil unions) or in Michigan (where same-sex couples are denied any form of legal recognition), we will be met with federal uniformity ... in that we won't be recognized, regardless of our state-honored status.

Based on the fact that we're gayly married, instead of straight married.

Sotomayor pushes back against this emphasis, asking instead "isn't this treating the married couples differently"? Placing the emphasis on marriage, Sotomayor is correctly pointing out that we do not seek to treat all straight couples similarly, regardless of relationship status. We treat a cohabiting straight couple differently from a married straight couple differently from a divorced straight couple. One might ask, following Clement's line of argument, why the federal government distinguishes between an unmarried cohabiting couple in Wyoming and a married couple in Maine -- shouldn't they be concerned about uniformity in the treatment of straight couples on a national level?

(As an aside, I actually think this is a legitimate line of questioning -- the differential treatment of married and unmarried partnerships -- but that is not, realistically speaking, the argument Clement was making. So it is the topic of another post.)

This is not to say that understanding LGBT* identities as political in nature, as social class identities, is never legitimate. Identity politics -- coming together with a group of people based on some facet of your identity in order to effect political change -- is, of course, sometimes a necessary thing. Often, such class consciousness is made necessary by the way we are targeted as a group by those who hold anti-gay beliefs or take anti-gay actions. I move through my life aware that my bisexuality and my lesbian relationship are key components of my self-conception -- and also aspects of my self by which other people both understand and judge me.

I am proud of being both "gay" and "married."

But I do think that when it comes to marriage law, it should be the married part of that equation that has bearing, not the gay. As someone who is legally married, under laws that pertain to marriage it should be that status which determines whether I am a person to whom the law applies or not.