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the distance to Mars

13 Mar

In the midst of everything else that happened in this very heavy news week, Maryland sent its equal marriage rights bill back to committee. Despite what was initially thought, the votes just weren’t there, the state just wasn’t ready yet.

Equal marriage rights are a tricky topic for me as a queer person, and, believe it or not, one I don’t actually like talking about. There are huge issues of heteronormativity and queer culture erasure involved in the discussion, as well as issues regarding misogyny, and an ongoing hunch I have that much of mainstream heterosexual culture is characterized by such intense and unnecessary hostility and suspicion between the genders, that what really terrifies people about equal marriage rights is the option to opt out of that misery that doesn’t really work for them, as opposed to a parallel discussion about trying to fix the often toxic male-female dynamics in this country.

A lot of the gay couples I know are married. Some legally, some spiritually, some both. Some in states where their marriages are recognized, and some in states where they aren’t. The one thing all these couples have in common? Equal marriage rights didn’t exist when they were kids, anywhere, and so they’ve all had to adjust to being pioneers. For some of them, it’s easy. For some of them, it’s easy with a bit of peculiar on the side. And for some of them, they still feel like they have to mention their spouse like a question mark, as if they won’t be believed, as if no amount of paper in the world could make it make sense — not just to others, but to themselves — even as it’s actually happening.

One of the things I think we overlook in the discussion of equal marriage rights is the importance of narrative. Not political narrative or marketing narrative or campaigning narrative, but stories, fiction, the way what is possible often comes to us through the mechanism of what it is not actually a non-fictional fact in the world.

In one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, “The Waters of Mars,” which I love because it’s about death and sacrifice and early space exploration, there’s a small, completely incidental moment (it’s character development only, not narrative advancement), where someone mentions another man’s husband. It’s completely without note of how notable that is to us in the non-Whoniverse here and now. I don’t have time to find it in the disc, but trust me when I tell you it’s “blah blah blah his husband blah blah blah.”

New Whoniverse stuff is, of course, filled with things like this (see: the lesbians in “Gridlock”) that often get overlooked in the face of stuff like Captain Jack Harkness. But as someone who really loves the Whoniverse and really loves both those small moments and the absurdity (and promise and hope) that is the idea of Jack’s 51st century, it bears noting that some of my sadness this week over the equal marriage bill being tabled in Maryland comes from stories seeming far too far away.

Look, I don’t get a TARDIS. I don’t get the Doctor. I don’t get Jack. I don’t get Torchwood. I don’t get the wonder of the stars as we’re busily retiring the space shuttles. I don’t get all the things I’ve written and dreamed about my entire life. I don’t get to save the world. But wow, if people could just say “his husband” and “her wife” all the time without pause or uncertainty or question, that wouldn’t just be equal rights, that would, for me, be spaceships and dinosaurs and time travel and hope.

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6 Responses to “the distance to Mars”

  1. Bethynyc March 13, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    I remember in the episode “Midnight” Sky Silvestri talks to the Doctor about her recent breakup, and how I almost didn’t notice that she used the pronoun ‘she’. When I did, I loved it. I love that these little moments make the people he meets so real.

    I loved the couple in Gridlock as well, how they held hands. *sigh*

  2. Conan776 March 13, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    Well said, Ms. Maltese!

  3. Rikibeth March 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    One of the things I was most profoundly grateful for, in dealing with a friend’s illness and death, was that she lived in Massachusetts, and had legally married her wife, so that even in the midst of the tragedy, there was no *question* of next of kin, and there was no arguing or even *explaining* that subject to the hospitals and funeral home. We just said “her wife” and got on with it. I think the funeral home might have asked, briefly, “Legal wedding?” just to double-check, and we said “yes,” and they said “good, makes the paperwork simpler” and carried on.

    It saddens me that I *have* to feel grateful for it, but the gratitude is there.

  4. heron61 March 13, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    I think you might be correct as to one of the reasons for the fear of equal marriage rights – interesting (and sad). As for the (quite reasonable) debate about just how important equal marriage rights are, one thing I thought of yesterday was that between that and military service (something hold deep suspicion about for anyone) – it wins the battle. My guess is no more than two years after both open military service is official and equal marriage rights are achieved in most states, we’ll see openly queer characters (with actual partners) on TV, and a few years after that no one but the far fringe will care, because being gay or lesiban will be fully mainstream in most people’s eyes.

  5. Georgie March 13, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    Thank you for this. It articulates beautifully what I love so much about the Whoniverse: that there is so clearly a place in it for me and the people I love, even when that place doesn’t seem to exist it the non-fictional world.

    Also: “spaceships and dinosaurs and time travel and hope” may be the best metonymy for good things that I think I have ever seen written.

  6. Sparky March 14, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    Ugh utter gut punch to me. Just that casual acceptance of the words my husband” without the pause, the awkward silence, the widened eyes, the repetition ot the complete freaking

    I think that’s so vital – the narrative of being people. I think the whole anti-marriage movement – and the whole essence of homophobia in general – is about rejecting that. We’re not people, we’re not a part of the heavily boundaried concept that is people – they put us oputside the boundary – and the boundary shouldn’t even be there

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