Thursday, March 01, 2012

Another 15 minutes for WWPD

I just had the somewhat surreal and entirely narcissistic experience of listening to a podcast (well, Bloggingheads) while walking Bisou that was, in part, about this WWPD post, the same one Withywindle responded to, and see also our "compromise" discussion in those comments. I mean, hearing this podcast wasn't that surreal - Conor Friedersdorf and Elizabeth Nolan Brown are both journalists I've Internet-known for a while, via the long-defunct Culture11. But it's somehow quite different to be, like, discussed, out loud

It seemed that Conor and Elizabeth mostly at least semi-agreed with my critique (which is basically, as I mentioned in the original post, Isabel Archer's critique) of David Brooks's (and by extension, Charles Murray's) argument that the "elites" (the college-educated, not the 1%) are traditionalist in practice and should set an example. And I do like Elizabeth's additional point, that these marriages are stable in part because of the equality within them. And Conor's, that it's hard to imagine college-educated types taking on that patronizing tone and telling The Masses how to behave. What are the logistics, precisely?

What I'm not sure I properly conveyed is that my sense is that stable marriages among the well-education result from that decade-or-so of premarital exploration. Whether this is or is not the so-called "hook-up culture" depends on one's definitions. I've never fully understood what the bounds of that are supposed to be, but in terms of how college students (and extend this to late high school and recent college grads) actually behave, there's generally a mix of casual and serious; of relationships that are and are not consummated, defining "consummated" as "someone could, in theory, end up pregnant;" and of experiences that one might reflect on later as positive and ones that shall be remembered as basically negative. Where any individual falls on this spectrum will vary according to so many factors - not everyone has an equal number of potential partners, not everyone is equally squeamish about STDs, not everyone wants sex outside of a relationship - but what these experiences have in common is, they tell you what you want and don't from a relationship, and they do a great deal to eliminate a nagging sense of "what if" once the right person does come along.

Now, as a caveat, I do think this trajectory can be enforced a bit too much in well-educated circles, where it's insisted that a person (more specifically: a woman) is far too young to settle down, until whoops, she's too old and has missed her chance. But a little bit of pressure to keep options open early on probably is what makes the marriage of two been-around-the-block 31-year-olds go more smoothly than that of two 21-year-olds who got together at 16.


I'm glad to have gotten a good chuckle out of Conor and Elizabeth re: my point that a (by no means the main!) conservative argument for gay marriage is that promotors of stable opposite-sex marriage should want to yank closeted gays out of the dating pool. (I'm sure this is not the first time odd notions I've posted have been laughed at, but this isn't typically something I have access to.) One of them said they didn't think this would pose a "statistically significant" problem, and both were quite dismissive of the idea.

But hear me out, guys! Whether gays are 5% of the population, a bit less, a bit more, in societies that demand marriage and procreation (which is to say, if you can't just go and be a priest or nun - something I don't think terribly many American Catholics, even, are doing these days, and that was never an option for Protestants, Jews...), this was a big problem. And social conservatives want to return to those good ol' days. I certainly agree that practically speaking, the tide's unlikely to turn in that direction, and thus that it's not a great menace to heterosexuals that they might find themselves married off to whichever small percentage of late-20-something homosexuals are out there looking for opposite-sex marriage partners. Closeted gays are, in this day and age, almost entirely a menace to themselves. But the 'surprise, my husband/wife is gay/lesbian' scenario is a problem in religious communities, and would certainly return to being a more general societal problem if social conservatives had their way.


Andrew Stevens said...

I don't know if I'd say it was ever a numerically large problem (but tell that to the people whose lives were made miserable because they married gay people without realizing it), but have we forgotten Jim McGreevey already? Dina Matos, his ex-wife, wrote that she would never have married McGreevey if she had known he was gay, nor would she have chosen to have a child with a gay man.

Anybody who says, "Well, sure, it can happen to her, but I could never marry a gay man/lesbian woman without realizing it," all I have to say is that you are almost certainly not as smart or perceptive as you think you are. People who have lived a lie all their lives tend to be awfully good at it and people are never as good as they think they are in catching the deception of other people. I always get frustrated with people who insist that a betrayed spouse "must have known" that his/her spouse was committing adultery/was a secret drug addict/was a serial killer/was molesting the kids. This is a comfortable lie we tell ourselves so that we don't have to admit that it could also happen/have happened to us.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Right, McGreevey! There's quite a list of oops-turns-out-I'm-gay politicians, and Dan Savage keeps better track than I do, but that was a memorable one.

The only way it could possibly work to have gays entering into opposite-sex marriages is if the entire definition of marriage shifted back to what it once was, which was a contract between families, in no way expected to correspond with the sexual or romantic desires of the spouses, who indeed might go and seek out what they were actually after outside the marriage. That's the only way that the 'gays are allowed to marry, as long as it's someone of the opposite sex' argument could work. Meanwhile, what "gay" means is that, under the current generally-accepted definition of marriage, it wouldn't be possible for someone to find a spouse of the opposite sex. To suggest that someone marry a spouse to whom they aren't even initially romantically attracted would be to redefine marriage. To redefine it back to something it's been evolving away from at this point for hundreds of years.

Of course, not all opponents of SSM are also out there in the trenches of ex-gay-ness, trying to get the otherwise inclined to marry opposite-sex partners. Some are perfectly content for homosexuality to be classified as something akin to pedophilia - a desire some are stuck with, but that can't be acted on, or, if not quite as bad as pedophilia, something that can't be acted upon and given any kind of official green light.

But things are not so simple. If marriage isn't an option for gays and lesbians, what happens is either promiscuity, which society might have an interest in discouraging, or, often, marriages to opposite-sex partners, born of the near-universal desire for companionship and perhaps offspring as well. These marriages form, even without massive be-fruitful-and-multiply social pressure, because gays will, like everyone else, desire the non-sexual aspects of marriage. But then these marriages tend not to go so well, leading to tragedies such as this really awful sitcom and, in all seriousness, utterly destroyed families.