The Queer Issue

In Vegas

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Robert Ulman

The Queer Issue

I'm not an early adopter. When it comes to tech gear, I've always thought you should never buy the 1.0 version of anything, because the bugs won't have been worked out. I have been ahead of the development curve on some things, though, and one of them is queer marriage. I was legally married to someone with matching genitals before this case in California was even a gleam in Gavin Newsom's eye.

How so, you ask? There's always been a loophole in the queer-marriage blockade: transsexuals. I married someone who was born, and who lived the first 30-odd years of her/his life, as female. He then decided to change his legal gender to male. No matter what you have in your pants, if one of you has ID that says male and the other female, you can get married in just about any state in the union. (The details of how you change your legal ID are too long to go into. But in Washington, it does not require that someone have any genital surgery. Most female-to-male transsexual people don't, because it's expensive and the results are often not great.)

For the curious: It works the other way, too. If a man and a woman are legally married and one of them gender transitions, they're still legally married. The state cannot undo a legal marriage against the will of the couple. So a certain kind of same-sex marriage has existed for some time now.

Before my husband's gender transition, he'd spent years in the dyke community being very out as a queer. And after that transition, he and I could pass as an average heterosexual couple. But we didn't think of ourselves that way. And we knew that if the country was ever taken over by militant Christians (or more militant ones), the two of us would be up against the firing-squad wall with the rest of the queers. The hair on his face and his deep voice would not make up for the fact that he also had a vagina and a uterus. In our minds, we were two nonconforming queers taking advantage of a loophole.

So right around the third anniversary of our first date, in the finest tradition of young, dumb heterosexual people, we went to Vegas and got married. I remember standing in line in the courthouse of Sin City, waiting to get a marriage license. The clerk went through the usual questions and asked for our IDs. He looked at my husband's driver's license, with its Sex: M designation, glanced up at his face, and then handed it back without a flicker and stamped our application. It was that easy.

And it was also that dumb.

My getting married was a mistake. A big one. There were a number of reasons why, but one big problem was that both my husband and I had a lot of unexamined baggage about the concept of marriage.

I spent a decade assuming that my sexual orientation meant I'd never get legally hitched. And that was fine with me—I didn't feel much need to have my love life blessed by society. But when I found myself in a situation where I could have a big, splashy, in-your-face wedding—well, it seemed like an opportunity to give a good ol' Johnny Cash–style "fuck you" to the straight world. I'm here, I'm queer, I'm marrying my tranny lover, and you can't stop me.

I certainly didn't think being married would alter my life in any day-to-day way. It was just a ceremony, a piece of paper, and a cheaper rate on health insurance. Although I must have had some dim flicker of concern, because I recall saying to my lover, "This isn't going to change anything about our relationship, right?"

He assured me it would not.

To this day I don't know if he really believed that, or if he was just telling me what I wanted to hear. But either way, I was naive to not understand that Nietzsche was right: When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you. That piece of paper, the fact of being legally married, changed a lot of things in my relationship with my husband. As the full weight of the matrimonial chain settled onto us, he began to bend, and adjust his stance on what our life together should be, in order to carry it. He began to act, in fact, like a very traditional heterosexual married man, and he expected me to act more like a traditional little wifey. Which I utterly refused to do.

"But we're married now," he'd counter, as though being Mr. and Mrs. erased all our previous identities. We struggled to communicate in our new roles, we tried therapy, but in the end, I was too firmly wedded to my outlaw ways. I dropped my end of the chain and left.

I hadn't understood what it would be like to be legally married—and I sure hadn't thought about what an ordeal it would be to get legally divorced. When you're queer and you break up, you just... leave. It doesn't ease the heartbreak, or make finding a new place to live—let alone dividing up the dishes and the DVDs—any easier. But I can remember the unpleasant churn of my stomach when I sat amid a welter of half-packed suitcases and realized that I hadn't even begun to end my marriage. At that point, the only thing I wanted to be to my husband was a distant memory. But in the eyes of the law, I was still just as much his wife as I'd been on our wedding day in Las Vegas. Once you get married, it ain't over until a judge says it's over.

(It's true that even if we hadn't been married, my husband and I could have tangled our money and property up in a way that required attorneys to pick it apart. But it's not the same thing. Which is exactly the point, isn't it?)

I don't think I'll ever get married again, to a woman or a man. If that's what you and your partner want, then you have my best wishes. Having the legal rights of a marriage can be a valuable thing. But be aware that the institution behind those rights can affect your intimate relationship, so don't say, "I do" on a whim. Or you're likely to achieve parity with straight people in a whole new way—by undergoing the same lengthy, unpleasant, and expensive ordeal when you want to say, "I don't." recommended

 

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