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What’s In A Name?

18 Jul

In which Adam and Chris are confronted with an unexpected decision.

Things were going well. We found a venue, we made a budget, and we set a date. I even started to feel a little smug thinking through all the ways that being two men would save us money on wedding costs. I felt the thrill of crossing off items of the knot’s wedding budget list and seeing the total amount left to spend go up. No dress you say? Cha-CHING hundreds of dollars saved. Why, we don’t need expensive bridal bouquets? Well then I WILL take back that wad of dough. I thought, “Hey! we’ve got a leg up on the system. We shall not be defeated by the bridal industrial complex, we are two men planning our fabulous illegal wedding in Alabama and we shall not be thwarted by the cost increasing trappings of heteronormativity!”

Pride comes before the fall.

As with most things, the revelation came whilst filling out paper work. In our post engaygment frenzy I began to fill out requests for information at various wedding venues in an effort give myself a full-blown anxiety attack. A simple part of this process is to put down your name. With Chris standing over my shoulder. I typed my first and last name, and then his first and last name, to which he said, “Shouldn’t we put the name we’ll be once we get married?”

I thought he was kidding. He continued.

“I mean don’t you think we should put down our last name once we’re married. I mean I always thought you’d take my last name.”

Somehow in all my contemplations of what it would mean for two men to get married I had not even given it second glance that we would have that discussion. Yet, here was my beautiful oddly traditional fiancé who I loved very much presenting the idea that I take his last name. I was dumbstruck.

As a CIS privileged male living in the 21st century I had somehow failed to envision that I would one day have to decide if I would take my husband’s name. Chris’ logic  is to avoid confusion in the future when we adopt a child (yes, the unborn child is also a trump card in gay discussions). His concern is that we be able to show the world we are one family.

So I started thinking, what if I said yes? Sure, Chris’ last name sounds pretty with my first name, in the sense that it is a good old boy all-American type of last name. It is the type of European last name people assume is non-ethnic. It evokes a kind of person who was good at sports in high school, not the boy who sang alto his freshman year of choir.

Further, my last name has always been more of an extension of myself than a surname chosen for me before birth. My first name is boring, I used to joke that my parents wanted a biblical name but got bored after the first few pages and went with Adam. My last name, by contrast, was unique, and downright fun to say out loud. Nearly everyone I love refers to me by last name only; every nickname I have ever had is some derivative of it.  My name is memorable, so much so that after meeting me once at a speech tournament a woman in Illinois named her dog after me.

On a professional level, I’ve been heavily involved in a close community of public speakers for the last 13 years. If I changed my name would I start from square one? As I work to complete my graduate education I’ve presented at conferences and finished a thesis under my name. My name is tied to my identity. Without my name who would I become?

In all my existential anguish I was even more disturbed by the thought that when this happens to women we are completely ok with it. There are few who balk at the young girl in the throes of adolescent infatuation tracing her crush’s last name. I’ve heard girl-friends of mine analyze how her new boyfriend’s last name would sound with hers, just to make sure it sounded right. We even refer to women’s former last names as “maiden” to validate that changing a woman’s last name is an act of maturity, a way of moving on in the world.

For years I’ve watched my close female friends gladly discard their most basic forms of identity and become new people. These women are proud of the change and enjoy the process as a symbol of creating a new family. When my sister got married I was floored to discover that she had to file paperwork to change her name with the social security administration. In essence, who she was before she got married technically no longer exists. Now she was a new person, with a new identity along with a new name.

What happens to the discarded names our women leave behind? Do the people these names once reflected still exist somewhere in an alternative string theory universe? Do they go off and live fabulous sliding door lives filled with adventure and fulfillment never aware that they were set aside and cast off as the cost of becoming whole.  Or do they stay the same selves they were before they were left behind, caught forever in the limbo of forgotten surnames. 

Historically the practice of changing names stems from the judicial interpretation of marriage as the act of becoming one under the law, and given the patriarchal assumptions of judicial systems, the woman’s name is simply assimilated unto the man’s.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and other early feminists engaged in a strong critique of this practice of equivocating females as a form of property (Kline, Stafford & Mikosovic, 1996). Outside the U.S. things are a little clearer for instance in some Hispanic cultures the child is given the surname of both father and mother as a means of acknowledging the maternal and paternal line. Yet despite the various waves of feminist individuality, as recently as 2003 up to 90% of women took their husband’s name in the U.S. with nearly 65% of respondents stating that not taking your husband’s name is tantamount to not committing to the relationship (Sutter & Oswald, 2003).

Things get even more complicated when we deal with a same-sex couple. In their study of 30 soon-to-be married lesbian couples in the UK Clarke and Burgoyne (2008) found that 20 couples had no intention of changing their names. Further, only nine reported having any kind of conversation about the issue. I’ve spent years becoming dependent on external scholarship to validate my individual experience and now I find we’re not even TALKING about this?

Perhaps this experience lends credence to the queer critique that pushing for the civil right of marriage equality ultimately reinforces heteronormative practices, thus making it harder to disrupt the harmful binary of hetero/homo sexual dynamics. While theoretically I can see the merits of this argument, the theory doesn’t do a whole lot to guide me in the  direction of what makes the most sense for my soon-to-be formed family.

Aside from the philosophical and emotional connections another question arises, would we even be allowed to do this? In Alabama in order to change your  last name you must have the following items:

  • Your birth certificate – we’re good.
  • Your Social Security Card – no problem.
  • A certified state marriage license – we’re screwed.

Given that we are getting married in a state that does not recognize our marriage the name change issue may not even be possible if we decided that way.

So, I went with my classic move when I have a big decision: I stalled. In the end, we’ll probably go with some kind of hyphen for personal and still retain our professional identities using our current last  names. Chris, who loves the idea that he’ll one day be married to a doctor, even if it’s not an M.D., enjoys saying “you can practice under your last name.” Still I’m curious if any other same-sex couples have experienced this conversation the various considerations that follow.

Referenced Articles

 Clarke, V., Burns, M., & Burgoyne, C. (2008). ‘Who would take whose name?’ Accounts of naming practices in same-sex relationships. Journal Of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 18(5), 420-439. doi:10.1002/casp.936 

Kline, S. L., Stafford, L., & Miklosovic, J. C. (1996). Women’s last names: Decisions, interpretations and associations with relational qualities. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 13, 593–617.

Suter, E. A., & Oswald, R. F. (2003). Do lesbians change their last names in the context of a committed relationship? Journal of Lesbian Studies, 7, 71–83.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/22789525@N00/3455428254/”>sajbrfem</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

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Dealing With DOMA Hangovers

27 Jun
kidpride

This adorable little boy at the Tuscaloosa celebration for the end of DOMA

Forgive me if I go a little off topic but I’m having an emotional hangover. Yesterday was a climactic day; it was a day in which the federal government recognized that legally married same sex couples deserve the same rights as opposite sex couples…..as long as you live in the right zip code.  With the striking down of DOMA roughly 30% of the nation’s population is now able to achieve full equality under both state and federal law. While The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS for those of you who have never seen an Aaron Sorkin tv show) failed to rule on Proposition 8, it did uphold a lower court ruling striking down the ballot initiative, thereby re-validating hundreds of California marriages and restoring equality to the state.

It was a grand day, a historic day. When the decision came in Chris called me from work and we both cried a little  (I cried a lot) as we thought about the possibilities this meant for us and millions of other couples who hope to enter a legal union during our lifetime. My country was willing to admit based upon the constitution that Chris and I, as well as millions like us, are equal under the law! Phone calls were made. Friends and family members sent text messages of support and love. Even my grandfather, who I have never formally come out to except to introduce my boyfriend to him, called me on the phone to say he could imagine me standing in front of the supreme court with signs. Coming from a 72 year old Sicilian man this brought me to tears, well more tears. I even joined fellow LGBTQ brethren in downtown Tuscaloosa at a rally in the government plaza and local gay bar to celebrate the historic achievement.

         It was a joyous day and one worth celebrating. Then like a night of drinking too many sugary-hollow frozen daiquiris, this morning I found myself deeply and regrettably hung-over.
I began to think of the millions of questions that arose out of yesterday’s rulings. Would Chris and I be able to get married in a state that recognizes our marriage and then file federal benefits even though we live in Alabama? What would happen if we moved to NY then later moved to Missouri? How would all of this upset our grand plans?

You see, Chris and I were planning a heist on our state government, but don’t tell anyone.[i] Like any good heist we’ve assembled the team for one last con, and this con would dupe none other than the great state of Alabama. The motivation for the heist was simple, the voters in Alabama voted in 2006 to deny marriage equality to same-sex couples. The amendment to the state constitution passed by an overwhelming 81%, and the majority of voters in Alabama thought they would never have to see a legal marriage in their great bastion of “conservative family values”. Thus our heist-scheme was born.We gathered the team for one last job: a loving couple, an ordained minister, witnesses, family members all to make things look legit. After our official ceremony in Alabama, the plan was to hold an additional wedding ceremony in one of the states that legally recognizes same sex couples. Then, with the recent defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act, we could return to Alabama file for federal marriage benefits and BAM the U.S. government would say there was a legal marriage in Alabama even if that would make us ineligible for state benefits.

           As I did more research and asked more questions I was left with the general feeling that despite our elation for the millions of Americans residing in the “legal” states able to bask in the glory of full equality, we are pretty much screwed.

For example, currently the IRS determines your eligibility for federal benefits based upon the state in which you file, not where the marriage was “celebrated” so that’s off the table. Moreover different elements of the executive branch differ as to how the marriage is technically defined so it turns out our plans, and the options of millions like us aren’t as open as we once believed. Yes, yesterday’s rulings do establish a wonderful precedent for future cases. Certainly, yesterday’s rulings were a step in the right direction and we have to celebrate the milestones on the journey, but they are just steps.

Somehow I fooled myself into believing that yesterday changed everything, and in some respects it did. However when we are still determining rights based on where you live and whom you love we still have a long way to go. In the afterglow of my post DOMA death I begin to worry if the wider world believes that yesterday accomplished marriage equality? Will people begin to have fatigue about this cause in the way people are tired of hearing about the war in Iraq, racial equality and other issues we’ve supposedly moved on from.

Equality, like any form of social change, isn’t a given. It isn’t inevitable, it has to be demanded. Less than a month after I wrote about the power of staying we started thinking about future opportunities for us to move where we are wanted. That we have to consider this highlights a stark reality. In the post DOMA world  there are no longer red states and blue states, but states where we exist and states that, governmentally, refuse to recognize us; as if we aren’t even here.

So what happens next? Certainly time and generational politics are on our side for marriage equality, but there is a whole host of LGBTQ issues that extend beyond marriage equality. Right now someone is being persecuted for being gay, someone can legally be fired for celebrating yesterday’s ruling, a transperson may be unable to vote because their state approved ID doesn’t match their preferred gender. People of color still have to face institutionalized forms of oppression out of misunderstanding and fear. There are so many miles to go, more legal challenges to file, more minds to reach. I have come to realize I have to do more. If you liked yesterday’s rulings, carry on the journey. If you called someone to congratulate them on their “victory” yesterday, let’s start a conversation on how we can make that victory with fewer empty calories and more people invited to partake in the meal.

As for our heist plans (see disclaimer below), well we might just have to consider following through with it and see what happens. Who knows I think we’re attractive enough to make decent plaintiffs in a lawsuit, even if it means I’d have to lose a few pounds.


[i] For future legal purposes I’d like to note that the aforementioned “heist” is merely a piece of sarcasm to overcome the emotional pain of having to fight your federal and state government into treating you as an equal citizen, despite the fact that you are paying the taxes of an equal citizen. We regard the institution of marriage as a very serious step in being in love and in a fully committed relationship. No one should enter into a marriage for the purpose of achieving benefits, legal or otherwise. However, as long as there is a class of citizens whose behavior is privileged with legal access to tax and legal benefit and another class that is denigrated to second-class status I will make a mockery of a system designed to tell us we are less than human.
 

Coming Out: Wedding Vendor Edition

6 Jun

“Do you have a problem working with a same-sex couple?”

It’s a simple question; it’s a series of words with a question mark at the end. It is also a necessary condition for Chris and I as we plan our wedding in Birmingham Alabama. It’s an important question for us, as a key element of our wedding day is avoiding feeling uncomfortable at any point in the day.  I also feel it is important to establish exactly the kind of people we are working with up front.

Like any good sales operation, wedding vendors like to talk to you and get to know you before they talk numbers. Most of wedding planning is done via phone and email which leads to additional complications. The online forms and websites you have to fill out to get a phone call from venues and vendors are surprisingly gender neutral as they ask for a Fiancé’s name instead of bride/groom etc.  However, I’d hate to start working with a vendor only to discover their horror when they realize the nice couple they’ve traded emails with is in fact their version of a walking abomination. Although one might assume that using the terms “partner” and the name Chris would lead to the conclusion that this is a same-sex venture, I’ve learned it is best not to assume. So within the first minutes of any conversation I have to open with “just so we’re clear, do you have a problem working with a same-sex couple?”

As someone who has lived an out and open life for quite some time, this shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Nevertheless in this moment that is supposedly about affirming the love between two people we open ourselves up for people to say no. What would I do, how would I react?

For the last few weeks since starting this process I have imagined what this would feel like so often that I’ve simply avoided contacting anyone all together. I wondered, would I be righteous enough to circle the wagons and lead a media firestorm? Could I follow the footsteps of the couples in Oregon & Denver who turned a trip to get their wedding cake into a national conversation on free speech and religious exceptionalism? If that can happen in Oregon, what will it be like in Alabama? I know what Chris would do if he were the one doing the talking, he’s not afraid of anything and I love that about him.  The truth is, despite all the talking, reading, and writing I do about identity and social change, when faced with a potentially oppressive situation, there’s a dreaded fear that I might not do anything at all.

As a rhetorician, I’m also at odds with the language. Is “same-sex ceremony” the right term, does this make it seem like something other than a wedding?  Calling it a “gay wedding” makes it sound like the qualifier is necessary. Does the practical needs to convey the type of persons involved in our ceremony overpower the political ramifications?   I wish that Chris’ name didn’t carry an androgynous connotation so that when I told people my fiancé’s name that I could be assured that this would clue them in that there would indeed be two men involved in planning this wedding. I wish that there wasn’t a heteronormative assumption when it comes with making a lifelong commitment to the person you love. I wish I was not required to ask a perfect stranger for approval of my relationship prior to engaging in a business relationship with them. I wish that this question wasn’t necessary. But it is, and we have to deal with it.

So, back to the question. Two weeks ago I got up the nerve and I did it. Like everything in my life the response was both comforting and oddly hilarious. It was the second venue we wanted to look at, a large warehouse with exposed brick and a place that was prominently featured on wedding websites. When I talked with the event coordinator I took a deep breath and just blurted the question out “I just want to make sure that you are comfortable with working with a same-sex couple” opting for a statement instead of a question.

The woman on the phone paused, more out of surprise than indignation.

“Oh…..well….no of course not. We hosted an AIDS fundraiser here in the spring….so we’re very supportive of….of that organization.”

And I breathed a sigh of relief as I silently chuckled at the woman who was very clearly caught off guard and forgave her ignorant correlation of AIDS and homosexuality.

Then the woman sputtered out “Oh and one of our bartenders is…….he and his partner celebrated their anniversary here….do you know him? Steve ______”

And I laughed, I laughed hard.

I wanted to tell the woman that I had failed to see him at the most recent track lighting convention. Instead I simply stated that I had not met Steve. Perhaps this whole experience would be less judgmental than I imagined. It was then that I remembered that the wedding industry is first and foremost about money. As a service organization that trades in dramatic symbolism, the wedding industry is made up of people who want that money, no matter who you are.

Searching for Masculinity in Wedding Planning

31 May

small__458651355

I’ve always been the kind of person who LOVED helping other people plan their weddings, decision-making is easy when you aren’t held accountable for any of the decisions. Chris may have had the right idea, if he had his way we would have 10 people in our backyard and call it a day. I, on the other hand, I grew up Italian Catholic and have at this writing been in 8 wedding parties, not to mention attending umpteen weddings in the last five years. I can’t help but want a little piece of the spectacle. Yet the moment your fingers type in wedding planning in your nearest search engine you are bombarded with more information than any human could possibly handle or organize.

do not type wedding planning in google

do not type wedding planning in google

Then I made the mistake of going to my nearest bookstore to look for wedding books. My initial goal of replacing bride and groom with groom and groom did not work as well as I thought. I knew that they generally did not make books for our special brand of nuptials but I thought even if I have to cross out some gendered terminology there’s surely something I can take away. Yet while there isn’t exactly a queer perspective on wedding planning, there also isn’t a male perspective on wedding planning.

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First, everything written about weddings is written from the bride’s point of view. The magazines have women on the covers; the books and the self-help guides are all entirely feminized.  This I understand, it is a market after all and the market must cater to the widest possible demographics. However, this got me thinking: is a wedding just for the Bride?

I find it odd that not a single book, blog, or horribly organized website I’ve found or looked at speak to the wedding as something two people are doing. These treasure troves of gendered expectations come complete with phrases like “something you and your groom will decide,” or “once you’ve gotten your groom to do x, y, and z.” Worse yet  brides are encouraged to analyze their future partners in order to better maneuver the planning process. In these wedding websites men are generally associated with deciding the budget, and the woman is supposed to simply make do.  What do heterosexual men do during the wedding planning process? If a wedding is supposed to reflect the symbols of marriage then what does it mean that the role of traditional manhood in the ritual of marriage is to be seen and sign checks? Is there no unity to becoming united?

Hegemonic masculinity would suggest that a key part of the proper performance of masculinity is an absence of care in all that is supposedly  domestic.  Wedding planning, with its emphasis on fragility, flowers, and sentiment seems to be no exception. One wonders at the raised eyebrows and confusion that would result should the groom be more involved in the process than the bride. More troubling are the  supposed “survival guides” for men to “make it through the process.”  Masculine discourse on wedding planning frame wedding talk as the disastrous deeds of the wildly irrational female as she is slowly poisoned by the wedding industry.

According to these websites a wedding seems nothing more than the first chance for the stereotypical heterosexual dynamic to begin to form. The women slowly encompass all domestic decision-making, while the men sit at the sides and begin what I can only assume to be their coffee drip pace towards a steaming cup of resentment. You can see these men on any given Saturday surrounded by bridesmaids in some abysmal shades of pink and taffeta.

Aside from my cynicism there is an interesting conversation to be had about gender roles in wedding planning. As a CIS privileged male planning a wedding I recognize that  I am in uncharted territory as wedding planning books and websites are rarely written from a groom’s perspective. However, as Chris and I try to make our wedding feel slightly masculine to reflect our personalities I remain daunted by the gendered language and experience of the whole process.

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Choosing to Stay.

30 May

As soon as I tell people I’m engaged they usually ask the same question, “where you are going?” Implied in this question is the understanding that in order for us to have a wedding we must go somewhere else. We must go to some province of liberalism where we will be welcomed with open arms, and our relationship is legally recognized. Of course I’m exhilarated and excited about the progress of marriage equality in New York, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Iowa, Minnesota, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, Washington D.C. and Vermont I readily applaud all those who travel to hold their weddings in states that sanction legal unions. However, part of the fun of planning a wedding as a same-sex couple is that we are never required to do what is expected. So, Chris and I have decided to hold our ceremony in Birmingham Alabama. You read that correctly.  I’ll pause while you finish laughing.

photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin cc

It’s ok, you can go ahead with the pictures I’m sure your mind is conjuring. Are you imagining women in hoopskirts? Confederate Flags? A reception catered by Guy Fieri or the cast of the Blue Collar Comedy tour?  I know this might sound a bit absurd to think of a clear Midwest cynic like myself, and a big silver fox from Jersey to be getting hitched in what I’m sure, to you, must look like the shooting locale from Deliverance. However, there’s an explanation, one that is as heartfelt as a Sally Field breakdown.

photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin cc

Here’s our thinking, and its simple: no matter where we get married, it won’t be “legal” where we live. So we figured, let’s get married where our home is, where we fell in love and moved into a house together. To me, marriage is more than a signed signature on a piece of paper or a legal partnership that can be undone as easily as Kathryn Hegel accepts movie roles. It’s making a vow of commitment to one person for better or worse, in sickness and in health as long as you both shall live. The legal state of marriage is as unstable as Amanda Bynes psychosis so why go out of our way to make something “legal” when it can be frighteningly easy to take it away. Even if we did get married out of state federal law, thanks to the defense of marriage act, would ignore our marriage in taxes, healthcare, and other benefits bestowed to heterosexual couples.

By ErgoSum88 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By ErgoSum88 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Second, there is a symbolic element to hosting a ceremony in a state that refuses to acknowledge our union.  In Alabama, homosexuality remains on the books as a criminal act. We are not allowed to adopt a child as a couple, we are denied the ability to share the same healthcare, I cannot establish residency in this state for tuition purposes, and k-12 teachers are required to tell students that homosexuality is “not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public.” However Alabama is also home to a warm, welcoming, and inclusive community that helped Chris and I feel truly at home during the last three years. Alabama has a rich tradition of social justice work as The Black Panthers, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Southerners on New Ground and generations of social change advocates started their journey in this place.  There is a power in our choosing to stay, in choosing to create a space that will encourage others to stay, to turn the tide of social injustice and to alter the public and civic imaginary of what Alabama is capable of. In this, we choose to celebrate our union in a place where so many fought for us to have the ability, and where there is still vehement opposition.
So we’re planning a gay wedding in Alabama, I’m sure it will make for some interesting stories.

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photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/496721450/”>CarbonNYC</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
 

Hello world!

21 May

What is “engayged”

Over the past few days I’ve done a lot of thinking about what it means to plan a wedding in Alabama and while Chris and I have been engaged, or as we playfully call it “engayged” because while we deserve the same rights we are not the same as heterosexual couples. This blog is an attempt to chronicle the experience of wedding planning as it intersects with gender roles, male privilege, and the heteronormative practices of the wedding planning process. Also, it’s a chance for us to vent about the practical aspects of wedding planning from a queer perspective.

About Us

Chris and I met on match.com. Despite what you’ve read about grindr LGBTQ people do use traditional dating sites. I signed up for a free trial after moving to Alabama for graduate school. On the very last day of my membership I got an email from a match.com user with no profile picture from a guy named Chris. This sends up a red flag. Typically a person on a dating site, especially men looking for men, who does not have a picture is either (a) in the closet (b) married or (c) hideous. However the message was long, and in the world of meeting via messenger size matters.  Chris’ letter talked about how he liked my profile and the areas he thought we’d have in common with each other. Pretty soon I’d ascertained that he was neither (a), (b), and after trading pictures certainly not (c). I became infatuated with him. Our first phone conversation lasted 5 hours.

Do they have to have a man and a woman kissing on their logo?

We started dating and pretty soon fell in love. We are your classic case of opposites attract: Chris is a tall, car-loving man from Jersey who is passionate about design, horror movies, and classic vehicles, while I am a short, book-loving academic from the midwest who is passionate about television, competitive speech, and oscar nominated films.

Chris (on the left) and I on a visit to our favorite city New Orleans
Chris (on the left) and I on a visit to our favorite city New Orleans

Chris proposed in January at the spot where we had our first serious conversation about our relationship. It was the most beautiful afternoon I’ve ever had in my life. I cannot wait to marry him.

The day Chris proposed!
The day Chris proposed!
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