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On partners

June 23, 2013

Army Dancing -Le Tigre – Deceptacon

Which mostly started running through my head because of the title, but “let me hear you depoliticize my rhyme”. ;) Plus, these guys are priceless. I can’t help but wish the military spent more time dancing, and less on what they’re getting such a huge chunk of the budget to do.

I’d thought about trying to write something on this topic before, but these related pieces from The Guardian were a good prompt:

Comment of the week: problems with the word ‘partner’

And the one it’s drawn from, which I hadn’t seen previously: When I mention my ‘partner’, what do you assume? 

I persistently get sucked into reading comments on sites like this even though I’m so often sorry I did, and I wish I were surprised at the number suggesting that the unprofessional behavior of the creepy bank employee Bella Qvist mentions must have been totally OK. But, on to the main point: using the term “partner”.

Even though I’m legally married to a person of what most people assume to be the appropriate gender, I often choose to refer to him as my partner. There are a number of reasons for this, and I’ll list a few off the top of my head:

  • When this comes up, the gender and/or marital status of either one of us is generally nobody else’s legitimate business. If it’s actually relevant, that can be clarified.
  • I don’t personally consider our relationship to be heavily based on gender. My partner must not to any great extent, either, since my “coming out” as nonbinary-probably-agender didn’t  faze him at all: same person, regardless of labels applied.
  • All of the other choices readily available in English are chock full of gendering, and by default misgender anybody with a nonbinary gender or none at all. Being called “wife” or talking about my “husband” makes me uncomfortable. They also carry an awful lot of other social baggage that I just don’t want to associate with (more on that coming up).
  • Ditto for the built-in heterocentric assumptions. Do not need. I may be a presumed woman married to a presumed man, but that does not automatically mean anyone in the relationship is heterosexual. My partner is cis and het–as far as he can be without caring that much about how I identify–but nobody else can magically know about that by looking at either one of us. Even if it were their business, in the first place.
  • I am not using the term to be misleading, no matter what someone else assumes based on my use of it.
  • In some settings, I prefer not to rub other people’s noses in the fact that I am legally married, while they still can’t have recognized marriages to their partners. For some people, the lack of legal equality is an understandably sore point, and it would be just plain rude to keep reminding them of it in conversation.

That’s probably not even all the reasons, but it will do for now.

This is a draft I mothballed for a couple of weeks, because I wasn’t sure where to go with it. But, something I read earlier helped prompt me to work on it again.

The major reason I prefer to think of my marriage as a partnership–besides usually referring to it that way, dealing with other people–is that I want to live in a more equal partnership than most of the versions of “marriage” on offer. It’s that simple.

From one exchange in comments on Clarissa’s My Feminist Journey, Part II:

So gender in Slavic countries is less, “women are fragile objects that need to be cared for by capable men”, and more, “men are immature children, and women just have to shut up and tolerate their bullshit”?

Revolutions, civil wars, genocide, world war, more genocide – men suffered more and died in greater numbers than women. This distribution of gender roles is a result. Men are a precious commodity that has to be fought over and protected. But they are a commodity nonetheless. Commodities don’t deserve respect or being treated like people.

You may notice that neither model offered there is exactly balanced, or fair to anyone involved.

Now, I did not grow up expecting to have to put up with a lot of the kinds of specific examples of lousy behavior she mentions in the post, but yeah: “As a little girl, I always listened in on the stories adult women shared. The leitmotif of those stories was the perennial need to put up with things.” It’s also been at least 150 years since men were disproportionately targeted where I grew up, but I hadn’t even thought of that as a possible factor in some social dynamics developing as they have. Interesting to think about, at least.

Then there is this, from My Feminist Journey, Part I:

This was when my fate as a woman who would never consider sacrificing herself was sealed. Unfortunately, the majority of other grandmothers forgot to hold similar conversations with their daughters. The generations of women who came of age in the twenties and the forties, who survived the Civil War, the World War, Stalin, starvation and genocide, who destroyed traditional gender roles and never looked back, forgot to mention to their daughters that strength and resilience had to be accompanied with self-respect.

As a result, they brought up a generation of women who thought that since they were strong, it was only logical for them to sacrifice themselves for their weak and helpless children and men.

The historical reasons and some dynamics there may have been very different in the Ukraine, but hells to the yeah. I also suspect that things may have skewed more this way in my own culture, with the constant influence of patriarchal BS getting pushed for centuries. Traditional roles may have changed, but in some different directions from different starting points. :/

My mother had a pretty serious martyr complex going, in general, and she was (thankfully less-than-usually) raised in a way that made her feel like she needed to put up with two emotionally abusive husbands who just did not pull their own weight in a lot of ways. I grew up thinking that was a normal state of affairs.

I still have to horselaugh at the idea that some kind of organized “misandry” is a major social problem. But, my mom honestly had very low expectations and opinions of men in general, and I grew up hearing that working yourself into the freaking ground was just what women needed to do. I have no idea how she developed that idea, since that was definitely not the way things worked in their house. But, my grandfather got an out on being basically a large, obstructive, useless pet mostly on the basis that he was raised almost entirely by women, so learned to do better. :-| I guess she needed to keep telling herself that pessimistic stuff, in order to continue putting up with some of the behavior she did out of her own spouses.

So, on a personal level, I really do not want more encouragement to live like that, and feel somehow compelled to martyr myself in a relationship. That was one of the big reasons why I didn’t want to get legally married in the first place, besides having lived through a really horrible divorce as the child/pawn. That would be besides not accepting that the state has any business deciding whose relationships are somehow legitimate. And, yeah, my mother’s response to my saying that I never planned to get married was the bad kind of fatalism: it’s basically inescapable, one of these days. She may have been right with that, since I did end up following the path of least resistance and getting legally married to a man for immigration purposes. But, that does not mean that I have to live in the same kind of relationship she was basically trying to doom every AFAB person to. (There’s not much more charitable way to put it, honestly.)

But, it’s not just her; I wish it were. She may have been presenting a particularly unappealing version of endless work and self-sacrifice, but I have heard too many other older women talking about their husbands like they were annoying giant toddlers who couldn’t really be expected to do any better. And, indeed, apparently gaining some benefit from their own roles in that.

To quote Violet Socks again, from an old comment on her blog;

It’s also my culture, so I know it. (In its original locale, I might add.) And it’s a functional matriarchy in many ways. My own family is a matriarchy. That’s just how life is. Women are strong and smart and they hold everything together. They’re wise and practical and reliable and they just get shit done.

Yeah. I’m coming from, AFAICT, a more explicitly Native subset of the same culture, and that maybe makes it even more so.

(I was trying to find another thing from Gyasi Ross that I could have sworn was on his old WordPress blog, but ran across this more recent one instead: Mother’s Day, Superwoman Complex, and Getting Better: Loving Native People Better, v. 2. Again, the dynamics are a little different in Blackfoot country, but some of it sounds way too familiar.)

And that’s all well and good, as long as it stays somewhat balanced. And it doesn’t turn into a situation where you’ve got someone in the family getting shit done, so nobody else has to take responsibility for much of anything. I have met too many people raised with those kinds of dynamics, and I have run like hell from more than one who obviously expected me to take over running their lives (usually in cooperation with Mama). I have had one guy’s grandma try to recruit me to take over caring for him and managing the rather extensive  farming operations he was set to inherit, in a classic kind of “ensure social welfare for someone who is just not up to that, through trying to get him married to Superwoman who can do it for him”. Just, no. Even if I had liked him in that way, and it wouldn’t have been a total freaking disaster to put me in charge of that kind of thing as bad as I am with finances, no. In a way it’s flattering in retrospect to have gotten picked as a successor, but I am sorry she spent most of her own life like that.

I do not need to live with–and feel responsible for–someone who acts like a giant bearded preschooler who expects to be taken care of and coddled while I run myself into the ground, any more than I need to live in the kind of “complimentarian” relationship pushed by some religious groups. (*barf*) You may be credited with more agency and autonomy and get more lip service paid to respect in the first case, but yeah. That is still no way to live. And some version of these kinds of roles are what I have come to associate with “marriage”, per se. There are certainly other ways to do it, but I have no clue how, in a “when roles have you” kind of way.

Honestly, I don’t know that it’s not just time to trash the whole institution and start over with something not as ruined by your pick of prescriptive BS roles and expectations.

What I do want is a partnership with someone who acts like a responsible adult. Things may not always work out as I’d like, on the ground–and I still have to stay aware and try not to fall into acting like my mother by default–but that is the goal. Thinking of it as a partnership helps with that.

Every0ne’s mileage will obviously vary there.

 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 24, 2013 1:59 pm

    It never ceases to amaze me how invested people can become in the words that other people use to describe themselves and their relationships. I understand that these things are interesting, are personal choices often influenced by moral and political principles which are important to discuss, but I’m baffled by anyone who says, “If your relationship mattered, you’d use these words.” or “If you were a true egalitarian, you’d use these words.”

    I guess, in the circles I move in, most gay “civilly partnered” couples I know (who tend to describe themselves as “married” anyway) use husband or wife, and there’s part of me that feels if I didn’t say “husband”, I’d be concealing a certain privilege. However, there are two important caveats to this; one is that I would choose to be married, I want queer folk and egalitarians to take this institution as our own, to throw out the crap and make it our own, just as generations have done before us (for better and worse). Two is that I have had the privilege of a freer choice than many – I was under considerable social, familial and psychological pressure to enter into my first marriage, but this one is a free choice.

    However, the words I use vary widely according to context, just as with the question of name-changes, I’ve begun using a variety of names (I’m sure it was you who linked to a series about names elsewhere – we found that very useful in working out what we wanted to do). I share the idea that there are contexts where marital status is private & irrelevant, so partner is best. I think “life partner” is good for times where I need to imply permanence (when I was a teenager, I imagined that “life partner” would replace husband & wife across the board). In less formal settings, it depends entirely on who I’m talking to.

    The only word I have a prejudice against is “hubby”. I don’t judge folks’ relationships and it’s mostly light-hearted disapproval, but… hubby? It makes me think of exactly the stereotype you describe, where the man is the eldest child a woman must care for. However, I’m quite sure more folk who use it are just being cute.

    • urocyon permalink*
      June 24, 2013 2:15 pm

      I didn’t think to say explicitly, but I was definitely not trying to tell anyone else how they should be using language here. (Not that I thought you were suggesting this, but yeah. It really bothers me when people put more emphasis on the words used than the actual underlying attitudes.)

      I want queer folk and egalitarians to take this institution as our own, to throw out the crap and make it our own, just as generations have done before us (for better and worse).

      I would also like to see that happen, but my pessimistic side has a hard time seeing how sometimes. Your post a while back on how some changes have actually strengthened the significance of marriage made some excellent points, though.

      But, part of my personal reluctance to use that probably does stem from not having felt like I had a lot of practical choice in the matter. I could get out of a bad situation and live with someone I cared about by getting legally married. There were certainly other choices available, but that was the main palatable one.

      Agreed on “hubby”, BTW. :-|

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