Yesterday we got married. In a slow fermenting, years long, magical way, we got married. And in a thoroughly Capricornian, “the government and our national history recognises your union” kinda way too. Let me recount the story:
Almost 11 years ago, on Halloween of 2004, me and Phil met each other online, and began a friendship which flowered into a lot more by the following February. In July of 2005 I went out to Nevada to meet Phil in person, and we handfasted ourselves to each other in Virginia City. We wear those same, Nevadan silver rings as our wedding rings to this day. Spiritually we were married that day, just over 10 years ago. This is the scene we looked out over:
And this was Phil that day:
One of the happiest, most innocent and joyful, and defining days of my life. We didn’t realize it at the time, but to be together we would have to move to a country with legal provision for same sex couples, in this case my country of birth, the UK. My “husband” wanted to bring me to the USA to be with my new family, and I would have gone at the drop of a hat, and was making all preparation to do so, but that’s not how it worked for two men in 2005 with US immigration. But as it happened the UK was bringing in Civil Partnerships that December, which was a real blessing for us. So we went in the other direction geographically.
In July of 2006, just under a year after our handfasting, we were legally “Civil Partnered” in Harrow in Middlesex. It was a very happy, sunny Summer’s day, and we had wonderful friends around us, but we were under such stress from our blocking at the US end, the move, separation from children, finding and following legal advice, and the demands of immigration procedures and amassing “evidence”, that though we knew this was “it”, the thing that our future hinged on, that it was a truly big deal, yet we couldn’t quite feel it. But it was actually immense, as it came with a very full range of legal rights, and we were very grateful for it.
And then we went through immigration and citizenship procedures for the next three years, and sorting out all the life and family stuff we had to deal with then and in the years following, moving over the succeeding nine years from Harrow to Greenwich, to East London, where we finally made our home (at least until such time as we can move, opportunity permitting, back to the USA).
But everything goes back to that time, that innocent, clear blue skied time back in Nevada, when we said our vows to each other in Virginia City, 10 years ago. We went through so much since then, seeing transformations of our lives and ourselves in various ways, our family, our spirituality and our way of life. But our love has only returned to its beginning and deepened. I look at my husband the same way as at the beginning.
When it became possible to convert Civil Partnerships into marriages last year, we knew we wanted to take up that option. There are quite a few reasons for that. We would have got married in 2006 (or 2005) if we could, but it was not available to us then. We entered a Civil Partnership as the equivalence of marriage, as our “version” of marriage. We were getting married in all but name, but names do have a power, and legal implications outside the UK. Parallel systems to achieve identical ends for separated sections of the population do not make sense, and in fact carry an implicit meaning which is not lost on the common psyche. “Partner” and “husband” do not mean the same thing. If it did, there would be no problem with abolishing the terms “husband” and “wife” universally. But everyone knows that would be an impoverishment. Civil Partnership means something legally very equivalent to marriage in the UK. In other parts of the world “civil partnership” can mean anything from effective marriage rights to simply recording that you are in a permanent relationship, with no expectation of legal protection. Marriage is universally understood.
So we always thought it would be what we wanted to do. It was what we always thought of ourselves doing, even when it was just us in Northern Nevada, in a lot looking out over the countryside. But it seemed like a technicality in a sense now, important, but after all these years we didn’t need another ceremony. But it was actually really important when it came.
Even in the taxi to the register office yesterday I realized that parts of the last 10 years were being erased, released or transformed (some of the trials and struggles), as if everything was new again, without our hard won experience being lost. This was the register office where Phil got his citizenship too, but it really was a bit like being there for the first time. It was like being new, but able to own these 10 years of experience more fully and naturally too. We got here. Damn right we did.
The registrar was really nice, and explained that when this new information got “locked in” to the national computer system, we would be married and our 9 years of civil partnership would be converted to 9 years of legal marriage, we would get a new certificate and the old CP certificates would effectively be cancelled (though we could sill keep them). That in itself was something. That original piece of paper which was our early, key goal; now cancelled for a marriage certificate that replaced it in full. Thanks and farewell, to a life that in some ways felt almost like being on the run.
We signed the declaration, and he filled out the certificates in beautiful handwriting. Whereas the old CP certificate was portrait and printed, the marriage certificate was landscape and looked much like my British birth certificate (except the line borders were in green rather than red), and would have been very much like what my mother and father would have got, complete with the little crest at the top. I actually have what my mother and father had. It’s difficult to articulate what, and how much that means. It’s as if your life were joined up.
And no more saying “husband, that’s civil partner, like a marriage”. He’s my husband, and I’m his.
Which year is this, and where are we? It’s now, and we’re here. Finally here.
We’re probably all used to what we once called “Gay Pride”; the movement, the marches, the protests, and later the mardi gras and carnivals. Being called “gay pride” wasn’t helpful or representative of course, as there was more than male homosexuality (even when “gay” referred to both men and women in the early days) involved, but the way things developed, “gay” was the term that entered popular consciousness, mis-conflating sexuality and gender variance, amongst other things. But enter popular consciousness it did. You don’t get choices about things like that. It got sliced and criticised and added to, till there was often a general surrender to the term “Pride”, as if you could be counted on to fill in your own meaning. We say “Pride”, but the world at large probably still thinks “gay pride”, just as it thinks that drag queens have some kind of inherent link with homosexual men.
The days of pink triangles borrowed from (a legitimate men’s history in) the Nazi concentration camps have been superseded by bright rainbow flags, and the long campaigns to legalize sex between men (it was never illegal between women in the UK) and reform laws on both things like this and abortion, have sometimes been superseded by the mirage of rights taken by riot and rebellion. Many people remember the Gay Liberation Front and their hippie era publicity, but how many remember the Campaign for Homosexual Equality? We forget that we were a deeply disempowered minority, and minorities don’t actually get to call those kind of shots, not without support and change of conscience from the majority. Otherwise we would just have been imprisoned or worse. The new left went marching on, but we actually know that was just rousing bullshit, and we in fact owe our freedom not to the barricades, but to reasonable people working anonymously to change laws and public opinion. We could not have done it ourselves.
Given the brassy tones of identity politics, I’m not entirely surprised that you occasionally get heterosexuals proclaiming “straight pride”. If no one explained to people that it wasn’t actually about being proud but about being accepted as fully human, how the fuck were they supposed to guess? It wasn’t about big revolutionaries, it was about a change of heart and mind, that then changed laws. And that involved a lot more “straight” minds than “gay” ones, because there really weren’t enough of us to do it.
So yes, be proud of being straight, or whatever you may be, but more importantly thank you to anyone who helped or helps to change minds to extend full humanity to the morally disenfranchised. That is something to be proud of.
We saw a really interesting documentary on LGBT muslims in the UK today. It is just called “Gay Muslims” and you can find it here. There is courage and sadness in the film, and it is well worth watching for the stories it tells and the insights it gives. I really felt for the Muslims in the program, caught as they were between their natures and aspirations for love and a real life, and their families, their culture and their religion. Some people made spirited and mature alternatives to the culture that rejected them, while retaining what they felt were their own Muslim values. Some families struggled to evolve, at least a little. Others struggled through horrible odds to stay afloat psychologically. I was particularly moved by the young man who entered into an arranged marriage, had three children, and when he finally could not deny his sexuality any more (he remained faithful to his wife) she left him to raise the children on his own, only to return and take his children, and then deny him access.
Another young woman struggled with her relationship with her mother after coming out as lesbian, and came back from a meeting with her mother where she was told the mother wished her daughter had killed herself rather than be lesbian.
There were glimpses of light. A man from Pakistan who was confident and able to answer questions about Quranic interpretation without even being defensive, during a radio phone in. An Islamic research scholar who was able to tease apart the distinctions of man-made religious legislation and “revelation”, and see ways through things. Muslims on the Pride march in London. A young woman getting advice from a relative who was ostracised for marrying a non-muslim.
But the majority of the people on the program had their identities protected, and were being courageous taking part at all. And towards the end, two of the subjects were shown, one talking about how she was going to lie to her mother and pretend she was going to change to a straight life, even though she knew it was impossible and it made her feel really bad inside; and a young man who wanted to go back to having a marriage and children, even though he was gay, because there was no place for him in the gay world, due to its racism and lack of understanding.
I am not in their position, but I really feel for them, because for years even I found the gay “community” a dauntingly dysfunctional place, seemingly dominated by emotional damage, falseness and insensitivity on one side, and an incoherent jumble of half ideologies on the other. Someone looking for home, and for real love, would be a joke in that kind of environment. I hope things are better now, but I somehow doubt it. The bear community opened up a sanctuary for me for a while, and was the only reason I came out properly, but the gay mainstream has a way of assimilating and turning everything into itself, once it has emptied it of content. It’s part of the reason why I really believe we need reform, healing, organic change of the societies we live in, rather than a fake revolution that everyone goes home from, not really changed.
It’s all too easy for the free, hip and young (or the old and cynical) to look at LGBT people from traditional religious cultures, struggling with their identities and values, and their apparent lack of future, and think them hung up, that they just aren’t “getting it”, that they just haven’t got over their oppression. But that certainly isn’t how I feel, and I’m a Warlock married to another man, covered in tattoos and with more than a little sympathy for the Devil. But I know that if they aren’t throwing out the bath water, it’s because there is a baby in there that they can still hear, and what on earth is it that they see, or meet in the gay world, when they get here?
I think it’s really good to ask of the “gay world” that we have created – “would you call this home?”.
I’ve been thinking about the whole thing of who does the parenting and how, and in what arrangements.
I think it’s clear that there are many arrangements which can work, and the most important thing is a stable, loving family life, whoever makes up the family. There are a lot of different possible arrangements, not all of which are chosen or intended, and a lot of parents do really good jobs under difficult circumstances. So I would like to point out that I really appreciate the difficult job that a lot of people do with great dedication and sacrifice.
But there are a few things which we used to take for granted (maybe too much for granted and too dogmatically) which it seems to me still hold some truth, and yet which have got brushed under the carpet.
Most people (with some exceptions) really want to know who their biological parents are. We do inherit things from our biological parents (way more than we start out conscious of I would say), and they do form part of our self understanding. And though it seems a rather unfashionable view, I would think that it’s pretty plain that the optimal arrangement for bringing up a child is in a loving family of which both of its biological parents are a major (indeed central) part. Obviously that can’t always be so. Death, absence, abuse, pathological dysfunction all preclude that being a workable possibility, but that doesn’t form the default assumption. The default assumption is that it can work, and when it doesn’t, people try and do something about it.
I have to admit, it seems to me that there are a lot of people who should never have children, and it goes without saying that inseminating an egg, or giving birth, does not make someone a real father or mother. We have to be thankful for good adoptive parents, for many reasons. The stringency of the hurdles that adoptive parents have to jump to qualify, as fit to parent, really show just how lacking the situation is in regard to the unavoidably unregulated nature of reproduction. Or rather it is self-regulated, with whatever wisdom, will and resources the people involved have (and I am an absolute supporter of accessible contraception and legal abortion, as a social and humanitarian necessity).
Children adapt to an amazing number of things and situations, and their capacity to love is immense. It is children that make parents, not the other way round. Parenting and reproduction are not the same thing. But I do believe that ideally a child has both its biological parents equally involved in its upbringing, genuine contraindications to its well being notwithstanding.
When I see gay and lesbian couples adopting children it makes me very happy, because they are doing a great service to a child in need, and it is all about the children, which is what parenthood should be. When I see gay and lesbian couples seeking to have their own children biologically, using donated sperm or a surrogate mother, I pause. I feel it is one thing to make the best of your situation and bring up a child without its other biological parent, when there is no workable alternative. But to bring a child into the world, with the intention that it will not meaningfully know either its mother or its father, well it seems to me that is more about the adults than the child. And that would be the wrong way round.
We are over populated, quite massively, and there are children that need adopting. Working to bring children into the world on the understanding that they will not know their biological mothers or fathers, that doesn’t make sense to me. I understand that people suffer from childlessness, and it is very real, but biology doesn’t make a parent. I think biology does something different, and important, but it isn’t (or shouldn’t be) for the parents’ sake.
I know that these issues are all fudged for many, but I don’t honestly feel that they should be.
There’s been quite a bit in the news about the company Mozilla appointing a CEO who made private donations to the anti-marriage equality campaign in California.
Mozilla produces the Firefox browser, amongst other things, and the person they appointed CEO was Brendan Eich, one of the founders of Mozilla. It turns out that in 2008 Eich made a donation to the anti-gay Proposition 8 Campaign, which sought to deny same sex couples the possibility of marrying in California. You may remember that with the course of legislation, amendments and bans, there were times in California when people were able to marry, and then had their marriages cancelled without their consent, on the basis of it being the place of a majority to legislate over the rights of a minority.
Eich’s donations, and views, were his own business, and did not affect Mozilla’s polices, but when you get to be CEO of a company, the association with a political campaign you have contributed to is likely going to be made in people’s minds, and in this case it was. A good many people didn’t like it. Furthermore, Eich wouldn’t give any assurances that he wouldn’t do similar in future, which is of course his right. It’s also the right of people to choose not to use Mozilla products, on the basis that the company is paying a hefty wage to a head honcho that had not ruled out putting his money into political campaigns designed to deny other people their rights again.
After a period of Mozilla standing behind Eich, Eich eventually chose to stand down as CEO. Various people have suggested that Eich was the victim of a hounding by a “gay mafia” or such like, and the conservative gay columnist Andrew Sullivan wrote that he had been “scalped by some gay activists” for expressing his “First Amendment rights” and favoring Prop 8 by donating $1,000.
My view was that it was between Mozilla and Brendan Eich if he was their CEO. It was up to Eich what he supports, expresses and donates to (within the limits of legality – things get chewy if you break the law). And it’s up to me if I use Mozilla products, knowing that their CEO has backed a political campaign to deny other people their rights, and doesn’t give assurances that he wouldn’t do similar in future.
Did I call for his sacking? No. Did I say it wasn’t his right to do what he did? No. Did I want to know if he’d do it again because I wanted to be able to order him not to, like he was on remote control? No. Did I like OkCupid intercepting Firefox users with their anti-Mozilla message? No, I’d rather they treated their users like adults who can make up their own minds. I just didn’t want to help anyone politically campaign against my folks’ rights again, if I had the choice.
There are times when I find activists on blogs or social media really annoying. When it gets shrill, righteous, moralizing, and has that “hectoring in the saddle” tone. It reminds me of a spoilt, entitled child, pointing fingers because daddy is on the way to kick your butt. I think it’s ridiculous when people engage in trial by social media because some celebrity made some drunk outburst and words like “cocksucker” or “faggot” came flying out. Yeah, would be nicer if it didn’t happen, but look at the whole picture; a life versus an outburst, in context. I know people have been taught that altering the language that people are coerced into feeling guilty about will change our social reality, but we know that’s actually bullshit. It’s deeper than that, so threatening people into feeling guilty doesn’t do it. Similarly, I find it a bit pathetic when people make grand demands that someone be sacked for doing what their employer already pays them to do, ie write garbage. Come on now, let’s get real here. Why would anybody listen to your whining? Since when does that spell social justice?
But helping to fund a political campaign designed to prevent a group realizing their rights? That’s not a drunken outburst. That’s not “an opinion piece” that people didn’t like.
Sure it’s their right. And it’s my right to walk away from them, and the company they head, and let my friends know why (aside from that I don’t actually use Firefox anyway). I don’t know what you’ve heard, but I don’t think the Godfather movies would really have run on The Family walking away. That isn’t quite the Mafia.
I know that people can be done damage by a cowardly, disingenuous consensus putting the chill on someone’s career for holding heretical views. I know that can happen, but I don’t think this is that scenario. I don’t wish Eich any ill. I don’t even consider it my business what his views on same sex marriage are. I do want equality for my folks though, and that does take precedence.
I belong to a group called Gay Pagans UK, which exists for gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender Pagans, Heathens, Witches, occultists and such like (in the UK and Eire). We’re also open to LGBT people who are just interested in Paganism, and Pagans who support LGBT equality.
It’s an internet group, and it was originally founded by Martin Cummins as a Yahoo Group (or “club” as they were termed back then) called Gay Wiccans UK, in November 2000. Eventually we threw the name open to redesign, as “Gay Wiccans” really didn’t represent the membership and its diversity. We went through as many rounds of discussion and refining of expressed consensus as we could get anywhere with, and while there was no name that could please everyone, Gay Pagans UK was the best least-problematic name we could arrive at. A lot of us didn’t like “queer”, the pinks and lavenders got the elbow, rainbow had too many detractors, and we ended up with “Gay” in our title as the least objected to/most supported, even though we aren’t just gay. Wouldn’t have been my choice, but all I was doing was facilitating.
The group was very good for me, and I hope for others too. I learnt of things that were going on, and made friends both on and offline, and discussed a lot of issues and interests, all in an environment where I knew I was not going to meet the blatant or subtle kinds of homophobia and sidelining that had been too prevalent in occultism and Paganism at one time. It allowed some of us to set up our own LGBT Pagan moot in London, which is still going as The Rainbow Earth Moot, and publicize independent LGBT oriented or friendly moots around the country.
We were not (and still aren’t) a decision making, community representing group. We never had formal “meetings” other than self organized socials. We never did group rituals. All we had was each other and as much enthusiasm and friendliness as we possessed at the time. At our London moots in the early to mid noughties we pretty much made the decision that we wouldn’t do the “working group” thing as we had such diverse spiritual paths, though people were free to link up however they wanted. Our moots at the King’s Arms in Poland Street (a bear bar with an old Druid association going back to 1781) became well attended parties with a good mix of genders, orientations and paths.
Since then the London moots moved on to cafes during the day rather than bars running into the evening, to break the association with alcohol and socializing at gay spots where the energy could get off kilter, disability access was a nightmare, and few places would actually be neutral for everybody. We thought we would try decoupling from the Saturday night out ethos. The results have been (since 2007) variable in attendance but appreciated by those that did attend, stabilizing at a couple of tables of people usually. Sometimes we talk a lot about spirituality and sometimes we just chat. So we have Saturday afternoon coffee once a month, near The Aldwych in London.
Our internet group, on moving to Facebook, has got a new lease of life. We seem to be quite a stable and long lasting group (13 years and counting), and I think that’s partly because our weaknesses are our strengths. We’re not politically driven and right on, no one is going to be the queerest of them all, so there’s no barneys on the basis of ideology. There’s not been any attempt to do anything impressive ritual wise, so no one is going to get misrepresented or left out. There’s never been any attempt to really make us an expression of an “LGBT culture”, so we haven’t inherited any issues that might have been attached to that. We haven’t done a lot, but what we have done we have just tried to bring simple humanity to. We individually care about our paths, and we’d be pleased to share that with someone who shared corresponding interests, but we are all different too, so it doesn’t always happen. We aren’t “people like us” with a single shared culture, because we are too varied. But though I care about Witchcraft, I care more if you’re ok, in the context of meeting up. It’s not that I don’t care a lot about Witchcraft, or Paganism, but I basically deal with human beings, and human individuals. It’s not always easy, or even what I want to do, but it’s a much realer thing to me than group rituals, or why the term “queer” doesn’t represent me so well.
Maybe we should do more, but all in all I think we got through ok. Though magic means a lot of things to me, if it is spiritual then it needs to have something to do with the kind of people we are, the kind of people we manifest as. Sometimes the flash, and the theories, and the ritual are just the distractions that people need to cut out.
We are definitely the tortoise rather than the rainbow hare, and that’s cool.
9th December 2013: link to group blog added.