The Queer Issue: You're Doing It Wrong
Avoiding Weddings Isn't the Way to Change Minds
The Queer Issue: You're Doing It Wrong
I adore Rich Benjamin, the charming political commentator and author of Searching for Whitopia. I'm not surprised he's deluged with wedding invitations. The guy is exactly who you'd want at a wedding: sharp enough to win over your fussy aunt and likely to be a part of what everyone, the next day, says they don't remember from the party. Which is why it was so hard to see Benjamin get it so damn wrong in his May 21 New York Times op-ed, in which he announced his boycott of all straight weddings this summer and called on "all gay people" to join him.
I won't be joining this boycott.
The question of whether gays should attend straight weddings is not like the three questions Benjamin posed in his piece: "Does a vegan frequent summer pig roasts? Do devout evangelicals crash couple-swapping parties? Do undocumented immigrants march in Minuteman rallies?" (Answers, in order: Sometimes, especially if that vegan likes standing there sullen, eating barley out of a metal tin in order to better guilt-trip all the pig eaters; way more often than devout evangelicals will ever admit; and hopefully not.)
It's also not about whether, as Benjamin puts it, one has what it takes to become "a conscientious objector." (If the parallel to people who conscientiously object to military service were to hold, then we gays would be boycotting marriage altogether, even for ourselves.)
The question is: Who are the people extending the invitation?
Should Elton John have attended Rush Limbaugh's wedding? Obviously not, unless Sir Elton was planning to piss on the wedding cake. (Instead, he collected a reported $1 million for serenading Limbaugh on the occasion of his fourth marriage.) On the other hand: Should I go to my straight brother's wedding this summer in Seattle, and the wedding of my straight ex-girlfriend, not to mention the wedding of my boyfriend's straight friend from back home? Absolutely. No question. Yes.
These are good gay-rights-supporting people, so I should go to their nuptials, gay it up, celebrate them, and by my presence remind everyone in attendance—yes, a little bit like that sullen vegan, but with a lot more energy!—that it is good and right to do right by the gays. Because (a) the gays come to your weddings and make sure your champagne and dance floor don't go to waste, and maybe even have a whispered conversation or two that helps some family member sort out whether another family member is a likely closet case, and (b) the homos honor and recognize your partnerships, so you straight people are being completely unfair and hypocritical if you do not honor and recognize theirs.
We cannot be above this kind of guilt tripping. It's one of our most potent weapons. But it requires attendance.
Just look at the arc of the gay civil rights movement, which has historically been much more about already being at the party, and then staying there and demanding to be treated like everyone else in the room, than it has been about sulking and staying home. The old saying goes: "We're here, we're queer, get used to it." You'll note that's the opposite of "I decline your invitation, I'm not coming, take that."
I'm not saying we should be pushovers. I was getting ready to be a little huffy about my own brother's wedding because here we were, just a couple months shy of the event, and we hadn't had the talk, the one where he calls me from New York and says: "Eli, it's a total injustice that I can just fly on back to Washington State and get hitched, while you, who live and pay taxes there, can't." But then it turned out that one reason my brother hadn't had the talk with me was that he was busy recording a YouTube video for two gay friends of his who are running a campaign to bring gay adoption rights to France. Also, he was busy trying to come up with a way to work a mention of Washington's unjust marriage laws into his wedding ceremony.
Why in the world would I boycott the wedding of a straight guy like that?
Benjamin argues: "They should feel the consequences of this discrimination as sharply as we do."
Yeah, I guess, sometimes. But if they're good people, better for them to feel our love. And some guilt.