Thursday, November 8, 2012

On "Genderless Institution"

Circling back to yesterday's post, I want to talk today about that strange phrase "genderless institution," that some anti-equality advocates have invented to describe same-sex marriage.

(This phrase is similar to the less-frequently used "neutered marriage" that the inhabitants of one marginal, bizarre "marriage defense" blog use).

The reasoning behind "genderless institution" seems to be that same-sex marriage will purportedly demonstrate that "gender doesn't matter" with respect to marriage and that, quite possibly, the persons within the institution are or could become devoid of gender.  And, on one point, I somewhat agree: Same-sex marriage being legal does demonstrate that gender doesn't matter as much as many traditionalists and gender essentialists claim it does.

Most biological sex differences between men and women have been greatly exaggerated, and women are certainly not the "opposite" of men. Indeed, given that I would question if even two people are truly complete opposites or complements, how strange it is that humanity is so thoughtlessly treated as though any random woman will be the opposite/complement of any random man by sheer virtue of their purportedly Inherent Gender Essences.

This point is not to say that all people are or should be inherently androgynous, but that society needs to become more accepting of the reality that lots of different ways exist to be authentic men and women- including identifying outside of that binary - and that some of us who do identify as men or women can simultaneously differentiate for ourselves when and how much "gender matters" or doesn't matter in different contexts of our lives.

I mean, wow, that seems weird to have to articulate that people have different experiences of gender, but I also know that concept is difficult for sound-bitey thinkers who insist that one has to choose one, and only one, totally-concordant, grand, sweeping theory about gender wherein either "gender always matters, therefore men and women are total opposites" or "gender never matters, therefore we must live in a gender neutral society."

I guess it's difficult for some to acknowledge that reality is not often neatly-contained and summarized by bumper sticker phrases and uninspired gender stereotypes.

So, where was I?

Oh, right. Here's the thing about "genderless institution." The phrase suggests that same-sex marriage is an institution devoid of gender- as though if a woman marries a woman, then the institution is androgynous, and as though "gender" is a thing that is created only by a combination of a man and woman, and that therefore a group of women or a group of men by themselves do not have genders.

I guess that kind of conclusion is a logical result when one thinks of men and women as opposites wherein men and women, apparently, only find meaning in being a man or a woman in terms of how that identity relates to, and is above or below, the "opposite" gender." Under this thinking, men and women are not identities that stand on their own terms, they are relational identities, always dependent upon the existence of an "opposite."

Basically, my point here is to say that I just don't think the anti-SSM folks have really thought this "genderless institution" thing through.

I mean, if they're going to be all, "words like marriage mean things," then the least Team Ultimate Word Deciders could do is stop making up words that aren't even accurate.

I am a woman. As is my partner. We both have a gender, and that remains true even though we are married to each other and not to men. Neither our partnership, nor the institution that recognizes it, is "genderless."

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