I’m a big believer in acknowledging times in my life when I could’ve done things better. In fact, that’s probably just about everything I’ve ever done. Wisdom is born from learning from mistakes you’ve made — I’m human and imperfect. I take comfort knowing that I am evolving.
This is not a flattering story about myself. When I was about 26, I went to the beach with a bunch of friends and one of them was talking about her relationship with her sweetie. They had gone through a rough patch, broken up and gotten back together. The gist of what I said to her was, “So obviously you’re going to get married, if you love her this much.”
In my mind, my very flawed, twenty-six-year-old, black-and-white thinking mind, if you loved someone then obviously you were going to get married and pledge to love each other forever.
My friend, to her credit, just laughed and said she wasn’t sure that was right for her. Even though I had known people who had done this before, it was the first time I ever really internalized that folks in a relationship could be very in love and not get married.
At the time, I was living in the lack of that gray area — in a relationship that was very much on a forever trajectory (just a few months later my stealth FTM boyfriend put a ring on it) that was very much not in line with who I wanted to be in the world. But I didn’t stop to think about any other possibilities — John and I were in love and I wanted that good lovin’ feeling to last forever, and marriage meant forever. I didn’t stop to think that I didn’t want to live a stealth straight life in the suburbs, I just figured we’d work it out when we got to it.
This all happened in the 2006 – 2007 range, before DOMA was overturned, before I lived in a state that allowed same sex marriage, before marriage was a right I had — I just meant ceremonial marriage. When John asked me to marry him and I said yes, that was the moment I believed I pledged my love and future to him, it wasn’t about just signing some papers, I believed those to be a formality.
I bring up this story now to illustrate the discomfort I brought onto my friend by assuming she would automatically want to get married to her partner because she was in love and that’s what you do. I think a lot of queers these days are confronted by this as the dissolution of DOMA and the ever increasing states that recognize same sex marriage means that the right to marry is available more and more. How weird is it to go home for the holidays and have your whole family expect that you and your partner will put a ring on it simply because you are able to now.
Marriage isn’t a coupon, you don’t need to redeem it. It’s not like getting to Petsmart and feeling like an idiot because I forgot the coupon for $3 off my cat litter. (But I do always forget that dang coupon.)
I have learned a lot about how to live an interesting life because of my queer communities. I’ve learned new ways of loving, making art, being friends, creating families and homes.
Think about the ways we queers fuck. When straight, vanilla people say “having sex” you can basically assume they mean cis-penis in cis-vagina sex. When queer people talk about “having sex” these activities can include basically anything that gets either of them off. It can be your turn, my turn sex, it can be a whole pervy BDSM scene with no penetration, it can be a wild clusterfuck of pleasure, switching dynamics, roles and sex acts. It can also be cis-P in cis-V sex. Just like there’s no one “right” way to have queer sex, there’s no one “right” way to have ongoing queer relationships. Marriage is just one of the options we have now.
I think a lot about marriage from a legal standpoint since I’m an attorney who prepares pre-nuptial agreements and estate plans. Marriage is a bundle of rights which is as much a business partnership as it is a pledge of lifetime devotion. The right to marry is a great idea, but it might not actually be the best course of action for you financially, emotionally or legally for many different reasons. (I also believe strongly in pre-nuptial agreements as a method for securing your emotional future.)
I think a lot of queers rush into marriage and lifetime partnerships because we want to legitimize our relationships in a society where some people just don’t believe you can be same sex loving, or that somehow we are wrong for loving someone queerly.
I’m the kind of girl who has always felt kind of vexed that I am the “marrying kind”. I had this conversation in college with friends of mine, that I’m this person people don’t want to casually date because I’m steady, not particularly dangerous, I’ve never been a typical “bad girl.” I was a Girl Scout all the way through the end of high school. I thought no one would want to just casually date me because I’m the kind of person you need to save for when you get serious. Maybe that’s true, maybe that’s prevented some folks from wanting to date me.
I’ve had some loves I believed would have a marriage component, I’ve been partnered twice. But I’ve also had some pretty incredible, passionate, wild love affairs that did not, and could not, last that long. At the time, it was hard for me to not hope for a marriage component. But each relationship was incredibly meaningful. Learning how to appreciate their temporality has been an important lesson, one I’m only now putting into practice.
Releasing myself to love someone who I don’t believe is someone I want to partner with is scary. Am I cutting myself off from the possibility of meeting the future Mx. Branlandingham by honoring a love that exists in a way that is not suited for partnership?
My friend Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha recently suggested to me that maybe I’m not destined for marriage. Maybe I’m destined to have a full life on my own that is punctuated with these amazing affairs. I try to live that way, not waiting to experience all of the joy and wonder of my life right now for the partner I’ve been believing for, but I also do still think that as I come into more and more the person I’ve been working to become, I’m opening myself up for the right partner. The person I would have wanted for a partner three years ago is very different than who I would want now.
Settling into this comfort, with the unknown about partnering with someone, has been made possible by seeing the myriad of amazing examples of how queer relationships can work in my friends’ lives. We certainly don’t see it in mainstream media culture, where there is nary an open relationship, polyamorous agreements or a long term partnership that doesn’t put a ring on it.
I know people who have multiple primary partners, one partner and “another” partner. People who have had long term sweeties that cross international borders who still have other girlfriends. People who are partnered with only one person, have two kids, own a house, have intricate estate planning documents, but are not married and don’t know if they want to get married. People who are married and have non-monogamy arrangements. People who manage to put a ton of effort into their relationships whether they be primaries or poly side dishes. People who don’t have any love relationships at all and are very comfortable with that.
This idea that pledging forever is the only way to legitimize a love relationship is incredibly limiting. It also isn’t actually a strategy for success. Successful relationships grow and change as they make room for the participants to grow and change. This idea that love has to be forever to be legitimate is also a way to get stuck in something that hasn’t been working for years. (Hello, Lesbian Bed Death.) Your relationship is totally valid if it worked for some period of time, even if it isn’t working anymore.
Marriage is like a chlorinated community pool that we now have access to. I think that people forget that queers have been swimming in the ocean the whole time. We have always had to be creative about how we create our love relationships and, now that we don’t have to be creative, I hope we still can be.
Queers do a lot of things to feel like we honor or legitimize our relationships because society doesn’t always honor or legitimize our relationships, and marriage is just one option we have right now.
I wonder if we could have these teaching moments with well-meaning friends and relatives who want to know when we’re going to tie the knot with our beloveds. Tell them, “I think there are lots of ways to honor love with someone that don’t necessarily involve getting married.” People who see things in black and white might not be able to see the whole color spectrum, but maybe some of them will.
I want to believe that showing up for a love relationship, regardless of whether or not you’ve said forever, is the moment that counts. I don’t need someone to tell me “I’m going to be with you forever” in order to give them my love now, hold her hair when she’s getting sick, hold his hand when he’s hurting.
Waiting for a forever pledge feels like some kind of weird contract. I don’t want a partner who only shows up for me emotionally because I’ve agreed to continue to show up for them. I want it to be authentic, a consistent choice that they make to be in my life. I don’t want to be someone’s default.
I think marriage is an awesome choice we have now. I am super stoked to go to my friends’ weddings and celebrate all of their permutations of love. If marriage is the right choice for you, that is awesome. If marriage ends up being the right choice for me, you better believe my dress is going to make your jaw drop and my party is going to be epic. And the future Mx. Branlandingham is going to be beyond my wildest dreams. In the meantime, though, my life will remain extremely fabulous and I will wear gowns whenever I feel like it. It is the Bevin way.
I used to believe I was a failure because I didn’t have a forever love partnership. Maybe partnering with the wrong person would have been more of a failure. As I recognize that wisdom comes from mistakes, maybe nothing is a failure at all. I’ve learned so much from the times I’ve screwed up — like that time I put my friend on the spot while on the beach.
That friend, by the way, is still with her partner, nearly a decade in and they’ve weathered a ton of great and hard changes in both of their lives. A wonderful example of a life lived and loved queerly.