Friday, January 4, 2008

Status Update; or, Make Love Not Babies

It's not typically considered appropriate to talk about what one does on their wedding night, especially in a public forum such as this. But I will tell you one very important thing I did on my wedding night: I walked over to my computer, with its $10 a night internet, and changed my "Relationship Status" on Facebook to "married." Of course, when you do that, the other person has to confirm it. Mary was not so enthused about Facebook at this moment, so I took the liberty of logging into her account and confirming it for myself. And thus, our marriage was official.

I'm not being ironic when I say that updating my relationship status on Facebook was very important to me. That is what marriage is, after all, a status update in the (now online) public sphere. It is not about the relationship; Mary and I have been together for almost eight years. We live together, have a dog together, have a joint checking account together. Suddenly being "married" has no immediate effect on our lives whatsoever, except now we have enough china and crystal to have a formal dinner for ten. Oh, and come April, we can file joint taxes.

China, taxes, and Facebook. Marriage is the ultimate expression of bourgeoisity, a chance to turn love into money. As the ever-trenchant Tenured Radical puts it, marriage is "a method by which the state has limited the distribution of civil rights and economic privileges over time to those citizens who agree explicitly or implicitly to derive some, or all, of the economic support necessary to sustain life from a nuclear family structure." TR's critique--which, as she says, comes from a long line of such critiques in queer theory--is particularly germane for me since it would have been quite easy for me to have been in the unmarriable position of the gay bourgeois. I swing both ways, as they say, and the reason I'm now able to enjoy the tax breaks is because my inner pendulum ended up with a woman. My sister, who was my best man, took me out to a gay dance club for my bachelor party, and it was there that I saw a t-shirt saying "Make Love Not Babies." The slogan was new to me, at least, and I realized it was one of the wisest things I had heard in a while.

That's why for me, the highlight of the wedding for me ended up being, ironically, the wedding itself. Don't get me wrong. We threw a pretty rocking party afterwards, if I say so myself, with good food, an open bar, and a carefully hand-selected playlist for dancing. We indulged our taste for unaffordable living in High WASP style, with a bridal shower at the Tabard Inn, a rehearsal dinner at the City Tavern, and the reception at the Arts Club. (All largely paid for by others.)

That was all great fun. And yet, the moment that had the most "meaning" for me was the ceremony, which took place in a little Episcopal church in Georgetown. The ceremony was from the Book of Common Prayer, basically unedited, with all those gems like "What God has put together let no man put asunder." The minister and the two of us actually talked about capitalism in regards to this particular line. Change and progress was of course necessary, he'd told us, but change sometimes takes place at a cost, and there was nothing wrong with desiring stability as long as it was of the good kind. He told the story of some little village on the Nile that had maintained fairly consistent cultural practices since Pharoic times, and was now going to be bulldozed to provide more space for crowded Cairo. I reminded him that this was a fundamental analysis of Marx, who had noticed that for all of capitalism's triumphs, it had yet to find a way to deal with the psychological unease caused by constant change. As Marx famously wrote, under capitalism "all that is solid melts into air."

We've been living in air for a long time now, and I know that uttering ritual Episcopal words is only a temporary comfort against that fact. And having a priest bless our relationship, a priest whose authority comes from an unbroken laying-on-of-hands dating back to St. Peter himself, is actually no match for the work Mary and I have done in the past eight years, five of which we spent living on different continents from each other. It's that work we hope will make our relationship last as long as we do, not the Book of Common Prayer. There were certainly some prayers I could have done without, and since I am not even baptized, an actual churchgoer probably might not approve of me wanting the trappings of church, without the believing part.

But in all the craziness of our wedding, it was nevertheless the ceremony that was the most special for me. I got to stand up in front of 120 family and friends--including my grandparents, who just celebrated their 58th anniversary--with my sister standing next to me, and all of my best friends next to her. I got to hold Mary's hand and give her the ritual kiss. I got to sing my favorite hymns, and listen to my sister sing one of them solo, accompanied just by the baroque organ. These minimalist pleasures meant a lot to me.

If you know me, you'd probably predict that I would feel guilty about enjoying it so much, when so many other relationships in the room couldn't be similarly blessed. I don't mean gay couples, since this church happily does gay weddings. I mean the many other more complicated and multifaceted relationships. Why isn't there a Facebook status update for one's relationship with their grandparents, a tax break for loving your sister, or some bit in the Book of Common Prayer to bless a trio of friends?

But I didn't feel guilty. This was a time for my relationship with Mary, and I genuinely felt that all of those other relationships in the room were there for us. The priest would say witnessing, I would say supporting and loving.

So here's to fifty eight more years!


Katy said...

well said, big brother. i'll happily accept that tax break :)

Rebecca said...

If more people put this amount of thought into marriage, I think the divorce rate would be lower.
Bravo! Reading this made me want to get married all over again (we'd go broke, however)...

Dayna said...

How wonderful for you both. We can't wait to see pictures!