The other morning as I sat on a plane awaiting takeoff, a flight attendant approached and asked me if I'd be so kind as to give up my seat. She pointed to the woman next to me: "She really wants to travel with her husband and we're completely booked."
The woman looked at me, kind of doe-eyed. She gripped a BlackBerry and fingered her giant rock of a wedding ring.
I was tired and confused and just shook my head. "No."
And then the woman started to cry.
Part of me felt like a jerk, but I'd seen this husband at the gate and he didn't appear to require any special assistance that might make it difficult to travel alone.
And I had my own romantic reasons for needing to get back Albuquerque on time: It was my tenth anniversary and my partner had bought tickets to the opera.
Both women eyed my ring-less left hand. "She doesn't understand," the flight attendant whispered to Mrs. Lonely Traveler. "She isn't married."
No, I'm not.
I'm not married.
And I know a girl isn't supposed to pitch a fit on a plane right before take off, but if it weren't for those opera tickets, I would have.
No, I am not married, ladies. And even if I could legally marry in this state or the one we're traveling to, I wouldn't, because even if I was a legal lesbian I'd still be a grumpy feminist who knows that women get screwed in marriage.
And I'm so sick of your blood diamond-clad straight privilege I could scream!
The flight attendant left us alone, and Mrs. Married gave me the stink eye before opening a magazine to read an article about Brad and Angelina.
Oh, Brad and Angelina.
Of course with celebrities you can't know the difference between gossip and truth. But sometimes it's the gossip that's more important. It doesn't really matter if or when Brad and Angelina get married. But the public banter about it is what people read about on airplanes. It shapes our culture, like it or not.
Art may imitate life, as they say, but life imitates celebrity gossip magazines.
I don't try to follow these things, but it's hard not to.
A few years ago I read that Brad and Angelina had made a pact not to get married until everyone could -- a nice gesture of solidarity with gays and lesbians.
And then, a few months ago, I read they were reconsidering. Alas, it was upsetting their children that they were living in sin.
Solidarity until it's uncomfortable.
I missed several good friends' weddings this year because of travel and work. I was happy for them -- I wasn't boycotting their ceremonies. But truth told, it's getting harder and harder not to view weddings -- when they're attached to the civil rights-granting institution of legal marriage -- as a flaunting of privilege.
As Rich Benjamin wrote in The New York Times in May, "How utterly absurd to celebrate an institution that I am banned from in most of the country."
When he told one friend he wouldn't be attending his straight wedding, there were hurt feelings. His friend, Zach, was on his side after all -- politically.
But, Benjamin notes,
screaming zealots aren't the only obstacles to equal marriage rights; the passivity of good people like Zach who tacitly fortify the inequality of this institution are also to blame.
They're proof of a double standard: Even well-meaning heterosexuals often describe their own nuptials in deeply personal terms, above and beyond politics, but tend to dismiss same-sex marriage as a political cause, and gay people's desire to marry as political maneuvering.
Often my straight friends defend their wedding plans with unromantic excuses like, "We have to for the immigration status." (Yes, you do. Just this month a San Francisco couple lost their immigration battle -- citing the Defense of Marriage Act, the Obama administration denied immigration benefits to a married couple and ordered the deportation of a man who is the primary caregiver for his husband.) Or "we need the health insurance." (Again, yes, you do, and I might have health insurance if I were straight.) Or "It's really important to my family." (Yes, yes.) Or worst of all, "for the sake of the children." (Mine never bought into the idea that they were illegitimate.)
Somehow the excuses only seem to make it all worse.
Because a big feast of a party celebrating love is one thing.
Entering a blatantly bigoted institution is another.
I don't understand what possessed those women on the plane to ask me to give up my seat for some married man.
But no, you can't have my grumpy feminist unmarried gay seat. I'm going to the opera. And that's my privilege.
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