Monday, May 21, 2007

Same or different?

Two links from Canada:
Three ads aired in Canada when they were trying to get gay marriages legalised;
And the results of a 2006 metaanalysis of the literature into gay and lesbian parenting.

Interestingly with the latter one, apparently the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada requested this study in response to the legalisation of gay marriages. Once the study was completed, its unexpected (by the Christians) results were suppressed and the gay rights group had to get the report through Freedom of Information.

The ads emphasise the sameness of gay, lesbian and straight marriages. They're clever adwriting. A friend Jill is doing her PhD on something along the lines of 'How gays and lesbians are disappearing.' Her starting point (she's in the early stages) is about how, in an effort to remove discrimination, we spend a lot of time emphasising how identical we are to straight relationships. That all we want is peace and quiet to form the same nuclear families that everyone else does. That of course we don't undermine the institution of marriage.

She argues that actually we are different, and that gay and lesbian relationships are radical, not just more of the same, and do have the potential to reshape society.

I don't know that I'm reshaping society...On a day to day level it feels very similar. There's the toilet to clean, and dinner to cook, my job, her studies, boring work functions to attend as 'the partner', and whose parents to see at Christmas...

I suppose one thing that is deeply different is the absence of a male. I know this seems a simple omission, but when you think that our society is structured around men being in control, having all these women-headed families (headed by women by choice, not by sad blameless single women who can't hold on to their men) teaching their children god-knows-what could be seen as quite threatening. By the same token, when two men are in a relationship, people always ask, sniggering, 'Who is the woman?' Meaning, who is subordinate? Because it's impossible to have an equal relationship.

(Not that I think gay relationships are ipso facto equal - race, social status, education, money of course affect any relationship dynamics)

I broke the news to my father we were having babies. 'Who is going to be the image father ?' he asked. Quaint wording, antiquated ideas. He wasn't closed to the idea, but it's interesting that that was his first response. Where is the man in their life? he wants to know. LG's father was fairly uninterested until we told him that the kids would have her surname - ie his name. They are the first grandkids with his name, and he seemed to perk up a bit at that.

That's the patriarchy in action. Just make sure the men aren't left out of our kids' lives.
But - I'm curious, whether you're straight or gay. Do you think gay/lesbian relationships are essentially the same? Or essentially different?

3 comments:

vee said...

Here via lesbianfamilies.org.

Great, thought provoking post.
In my experience, gay relationships have more potential to be different, and I think they start off in a different place. In my previous hetero life, I fought very hard, both with myself, my partner and with wider society to be different from heteronormative expectations. I didn't want to marry or have children, I wanted to earn the same and eat the same. I expected half of the cleaning and cooking to be done by him and I wanted everybody to know about it.

I'm now in a lesbian relationship and can't even imagine anything different for myself. All those things I railed against as a straight woman no longer seem threatening. We're planning babies and weddings and we've naturally fallen into differing roles and responsibilities (she does most of the cooking, I generally look after the money). But these samenesses don't feel like some gigantic, smothering trap anymore. They feel like freely taken decisions. And they feel like radically different choices.

When I left my male partner and came out to my parents, the first thing my father said was, "Well, you always said you never wanted children." I guess that when we emphasise our sameness by getting married and getting pregnant, we'll be radically reshaping my father's view of society and where lesbian women fit into it!

JB said...

Hi Mikhela and congratulations. I posted a comment after you learned of your brother's news and am very pleased it's working out for you too.

You actually asked for straight or gay/lesbian perspectives but just to throw a spanner in the works I'll tell you what I think as a bisexual ;)

I've had relationships with each gender (without either causing me any great epiphany regarding "this is the way it should be" as some who come out as lesbian later in life describe) and on the whole, I think the individuals are far more important in the dynamics of a relationship than their gender. In my current relationship with a man, I probably fulfil more stereotypical male roles than him and we are about split on the "female" ones. I've had at least one lesbian relationship in which I played a far more traditional female role than I do in this one.

However, because their very existence challenges the expected, I suspect that more same sex relationships start from a position of endless possibility and sometimes end up at the traditional, whereas more opposite sex relationships start from an assumption of tradition and diverge if the couple requires. I also think people often assume things about opp sex couples that aren't necessarily true whereas it's harder to assume anything about the dynamics between two men or women. When I was researching a particular relationship issue recently, I actually found writing on gay relationships more useful than the straight equivalent exactly because it assumed fewer steretypes about gender characteristics and roles that simply don't apply to me or my partner.

The children issue fascinates me. I am constantly criticised as a woman in a relationship with a man for not having them (even though actually this is not by choice) whereas I know lesbians who are constantly criticised for having them. The forces are alive and well that want to keep to the old ways.

As an only tangentially related aside, I'm astounded at the number of lesbians who feel the need (sometimes quite unpleasantly) to point out to me that had I chosen a female instead of male partner, I probably could have fulfilled my wish to become a parent despite my own infertility. Or conversely to assume I only married to have children and hence should leave him and get back to the real (lesbian) world. I guess insensitivity and presumption is also a matter of individuality rather than gender orienation!

JB said...

Just for the record, I meant that last sentence to read "a matter of gender OR orientation". Sprry!