To Wed Is to Lose One's Precious Distance from Conformity

By Stimpson, Catharine R. | The Nation, July 5, 2004 | Go to article overview

To Wed Is to Lose One's Precious Distance from Conformity


Stimpson, Catharine R., The Nation


Gay marriage: I regard it with a mixture of fear and rage, but my initial response as it loomed up as a national issue was astonishment. I would no more have expected to see couples lining up to marry in San Francisco or New Paltz than a fish in earlier centuries would have expected to find a submarine running through its salty home.

Surprise overtook me because I had trusted my measurements of American society. Born in 1936, raised in a small provincial city in the Pacific Northwest, I had swum in "mainstream America." I thought I knew its religious, social and legal values; which were fluid, which fixed. Heterosexuality was stable. I had also lived cheek by jowl with religious fundamentalists, gone to high school with them, shared a locker corridor with popular and intelligent girls who would tell me that when they got married, and they surely would, they would, as the Bible mandated, be subservient to their husbands.

Even the nicest and most tolerant of the people in my hometown would have responded to gay marriage as an utterly alien event, stranger by far than Martians or Plutonians landing in the high school gym. For marriage simply was the yoking of a man and a woman--a crucial part of the apparatus through which everyone traveled from birth to death. To be sure, some female schoolteachers lived together as couples, but, like nuns, they seemed sexless. If they shared a bedroom in their modest homes, the beds were twins, often with matching crocheted bedspreads. Because they were polite and kind and taught children deftly, they had won social acceptance. Otherwise, not to be married or sadly widowed or unfortunately divorced was to dwell in a nameless limbo.

Gay sex, however, did have names and belonged, if not in hell, in criminal domains. Some of the nicest and most tolerant of people felt gay sex was literally nauseating and considered it filthy and forbidden, a peril from which their children had to be protected. It is strange and sad and dislocating to be with people who would vomit and protect their children if they knew what your sexual desires were, but I grew used to it--as a fish might to dangerous pollutants in the waters.

Despite my years of living in tolerant New York, I have refused to forget the lessons of my childhood, reinforced in the women's college that trusted my mind and distrusted my body. I have retained traces of internalized homophobia, as if mercury had entered my system. This is one source of my fear of gay marriage. I believe that making it such an open issue is like throwing homophobic predators living, bleeding flesh that will nourish them.

But my fear of gay marriage has a second, more affirmative source as well. I have grown to treasure the difference that being a lesbian has made, the existential choice it has signified, the psychic and moral distance from conformity it has established. It has given me an edge. It has also accustomed me to a life of hurly-burly, improvisation and conflict. Behind marriage, especially one confirmed by a religious ceremony, is a dream of unending unity--of the will of God, the state, two people. When children are born, they will join this cosmic, political, legal and psychological unity.

In my spiritual life, I can read the Bible, and I do; I can pray, and I do. Because I was baptized and confirmed in a church with many liberal traditions, most of its doors are open to me. In my political life, I can be patriotic, and I am. I can believe in the rule of law, and I do. I can live with my partner, Liz Wood, for nearly thirty years and help to raise her four children. We were a lesbian couple with children long before it was fashionable and vacation spots were gay-friendly.

But to marry? To follow that well-trod path, whether I wore a white veil or polka-dot bikini at the ceremony? To do so would be to imitate most of the others with whom I grew up and went to college. Once, at a college reunion, I peeked into the open bedside- table drawer of the married classmate who was hosting our dinner. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

To Wed Is to Lose One's Precious Distance from Conformity
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.