Wedding season is upon us, although right now it's mostly Zoom weddings, drive-by weddings and postponed weddings. I feel for you if you are currently reimagining your ceremony in a coronavirus world. These are some trying times.
My wife and I got gay married four years ago in front of 50 friends and family at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. It's funny to think how foreign the word "wife" sounded to us then, and how not entirely adequate it felt—at least for me. "Wife" connotes women in a way that doesn't quite fit either of our genderqueer selves. But "spouse" felt differently awkward (too clinical? Too beige?), so we decided to embrace "wife." Now it rolls automatically off my tongue.
Putting together the event itself was an interesting clash of queer imagination and borrowing from tradition. After much debate over the genders we felt like manifesting at the wedding and the associated clothing choices (tux? Skirt? Suspenders? Something different altogether?), I settled on a $39 mermaid dress made of glittering turquoise spandex, and my wife wore a handsome cream-colored button-down with a rhinestone belt buckle and a turquoise watch she borrowed from Target. I picked our bouquets from neighborhood flowers. My aunt ran the ceremony and my best friend/ex presented us with our rings. We had our reception at a circus studio; one of the joys of being queer is that it's much easier to circumvent norms and craft your own rituals—there's so little that is scripted for us, and we felt blissfully free from the opinions of churches or intrusive relatives.
But this still begs the question: Why have a wedding at all?
Marriage does not have the most shining history, and it's certainly not the pinnacle of achievement for gay liberation movements. It's a conventional and conservative institution. So much of its origin in Western culture has to do with passing down property and maintaining patriarchy. But I came of age with a bunch of anarchists and radicals and we were supposed to be creating polyamorous constellations of revolutionary love, not getting hitched.
My engagement definitely met with some disapproval from old friends and, at the other end of the spectrum, elicited uncomfortable questions from clueless straight people. Ironically, we never even ended up filing the legal marriage paperwork with the state because we realized our combined income would put us into that unfortunate economic purgatory where we would be screwed by increased student loan payments we couldn't afford and by lost eligibility for health insurance subsidies. We are better off legally "single."
But the desire to get married was never about being recognized by the government anyway. It was about making a sacred commitment to each other, witnessed by friends and loved ones who could hold us accountable, to become family and stick things out. I feel like this commitment has served us so well over the last four years. It would have been so much easier to turn tail and run when shit got hard if we weren't married. As someone with a lot of trauma and a turbulent relationship history, and as someone who has been part of so much transience in radical communities, the commitment of marriage has been deeply stabilizing for me. I feel like I have a loving and lasting home for the first time in my life. It's a giant exhale for my entire nervous system.
Don't get me wrong—I know I'm lucky. I know a lot of marriages are train wrecks. Depending how you read the figures, and what population you're looking at, something like 45% of marriages end in divorce. But those stats get a lot better for folks who wait to marry later in life, until they've grown up a bit and have established careers, like we did. I also picked an amazing partner. She is smart, warm, generous, hilarious, hot and always in my corner. We've had real struggles, but the bedrock of our relationship is deep love, support, and the ability to spend tons of time together and still want to hang out. That last part is really coming in handy during this whole pandemic marathon-in-place.
Plus, I imagine a relationship commitment like marriage might feel way less desirable or necessary if we lived in different social configurations, for example, in small clans where a bunch of folks were committed to raising each other's kids, being connected to land, and building lasting intergenerational community. Unfortunately, however, I have not found a functional version of that dream here in the US. In this version of history, marriage has ended up being a surprisingly healing and powerful choice. I have no regrets.
Necessary Magic is a semi-regular column wherein writer and artist Jacks McNamara explores queer issues, liberatory politics, magical creatures and other relevant topics. Learn more at jacksmcnamara.net.