Marriage, Re-marriage, and how I’ve never been afraid of commitment

During that strange period between when my former partner and I had decided that we would be getting divorced and when we actually separated, I (obviously?) had a lot of conversations about marriage and divorce with various friends and relations.

In the midst of one rather long and freewheeling conversation, I had one friend mention that – while they liked the idea of marriage in some ways – they didn’t understand how people could ever make the decision to do it. Because, after all, how do you know it’s going to work out?

I didn’t manage to articulate an answer at the time, but at it’s heart, this question always seems to miss the point for me. Because, um, of course you don’t know for sure it’s going to work out. Whether or not it works out isn’t ever going to be entirely in your own control even, since there’s another person involved, plus just the unpredictability of life in general. And anyway, in my case even if I had thought I knew for sure when I got married, I was proven wrong in the end.

But I never thought that in the first place. I actually went in with a very clear awareness that we might not be married forever, that getting married was just one of many choices we were going to be making throughout our lives about our relationship and what togetherness looked like for us.

I went into that marriage not knowing where it would lead us. But I also went in knowing a whole lot of other, much more important things.

I knew it was what I wanted.

I knew that the idea of us being together for the rest of our lives, as married people, made me happy.

I knew I liked the idea of sharing our lives and growing old together.

In short, I knew that if it did work out, it would be great.

I knew that based on the information I had available at the time, I was making a good decision.

I knew that if I didn’t at least try to have this thing with this person, I would regret it.

And because of all of that, I also knew that if for some reason it didn’t work out, I wouldn’t regret having made the decision to try.

And even now, I know that it was the right decision.

I know because, when we were married, I never doubted that it was what I wanted. Every day, I knew I wanted to be with this person, for the rest of my life.

And, nevertheless, it didn’t work out. I still have feelings about that, because of course I do, it’s an emotional sort of thing. I spent a lot of years planning for and make decisions around building a life that is no longer an option, and that will never come to be.

That really sucks. It just really, really sucks.

But, all of this also means that now, more than ever, I trust myself to make good decisions about who I want to marry.

So, while experiences of divorce – whether it’s our parents’ or our own – most often make people more reluctant to make that leap again (or at all), everything that has gotten me to where I am now, planning my second marriage, just makes me more sure that I’m doing the right thing, for me.

Because I know what I’m getting myself into, and I know that it’s what I want.

I know I want to try to have this thing, with this person.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

Schrodinger’s divorce

So, I am getting divorced. I just realized I never explicitly said that here, although I¬†wrote directly about the reason why earlier this year. I haven’t written a lot about it here because my former spouse-person does read this stuff, and I have been doing my best not to unfairly throw my feelings at them around this (so, to you, fair warning that you may not want to read this one, I guess). I need to get this stuff out, though, and processing these kinds of feelings has been one of the major things this blog does for me, and I’m not willing to continue sacrificing this outlet for the sake of whatever-has-been-holding-me-back, so here we go.

My divorce is very amicable. The post linked above gives you the sunniest of all of my attitudes toward it, and its the one I’ve worked very hard to keep in the forefront as I’ve gone through the motions.

The short version is, when we decided to get married, I was very clear on the fact that marrying me was also a commitment to have kids with me, and my partner agreed to that. And then last year, about five years in, they let me know that they had realized they don’t want to have kids after all. Our divorce isn’t anyone’s fault, and neither of us did anything wrong.

And yet.

That’s not the only story there is to tell. And I can’t always stick to that one either, because it doesn’t even begin to honour all of the feelings I have about it.

Because the thing is, I am angry. I am so goddamn angry. I feel betrayed. I feel abandoned. The life I have been actively and consciously working on building has been torn down around me and I the only thing left standing is me, alone. (I mean, not really, but also yes really, that is what it feels like).

Because the other story goes something like this:

I met an amazing wonderful person who honestly change my life. Our relationship was just comfortable and good right from the start, and I knew I wanted to be with them, as much as I have ever known anything. They were someone I wanted to be with, and they were someone I loved the idea of raising kids with, specifically.

They were less sure at first (less sure about whether they wanted to marry at all ever; less sure about whether they wanted kids at all ever) but after a few years we decided to get married and that’s what we did.

For me, this meant we were a team, that I was no longer just building a life for myself, but rather we were working together to build a life (or two parallel lives anyway) for the both of us. And I loved this. This made me really happy.

I made different life choices than I would have without them. I limited my job searches to Toronto and the surrounding areas (despite the fact that both my career path and the whole having kids thing would have been easier elsewhere), because they were not willing to consider moving and I wanted to be where they would be. Every time we changed apartments, the search was more stressful and difficult than necessary for me, because they didn’t want to live in a high-rise, but since I can live happily just about anywhere, their preferences were the ones that mattered.

I forgave infidelity. More than once. And it wasn’t even hard, because when it came down to it, I knew this was the person I wanted to be with. I could feel it in my bones, and it was as simple as that, for me, always. We figured out better boundaries that were reasonable for both of us, that they could live within and that I could feel comfortable with.

We had a really good and strong marriage, to be honest. It of course had its problems, and we each had things about the other that were trying and wearing, because we are human, but we were dedicated finding ways of making it work, and we did a damn good job of it. Our marriage survived career changes (for both of us). Gender transitions (for both of us). The aforementioned infidelities. We barely even flinched.


Over and over again, we put off having kids. Because they weren’t ready for that yet. Because they had a list of conditions we needed to meet before that could happen, some of which were reasonable, and some of which kept changing. Primarily though, they were stuck working retail and it was miserable and was causing them chronic pain problems, and it was priority to get them out of that hole, and obviously that is all reasonable. So I dedicated myself to helping them figure out what would make them happier to do for a living. I listened to them and helped them figure out their options for changing their career path. And they started working toward an awesome career path (one they are now pretty solidly on). I supported them through a year of school, after having more or less supported myself through my own school (apparently I can work and do a master’s degree at the same time, but they can’t. Whatever. This is the pettiest I’m going to get, I promise.)

I am most bitter about that year, though, because it was actually right when the light at the end of this tunnel finally came into view that they dropped the bomb on me. They were still in the middle of school at the time, and even though we both knew what it meant that they had decided to to not have kids, I decided I would continue to support them until they finished school and got a job, and then we’d start disentangling our finances, and everything else.

To be very, very clear: right up until that conversation happened, I had really thought we’d probably be actually seriously able to look at having kids within a year, or maybe two on the outside (i.e. around right now, as it happens). Instead, we are getting divorced and I don’t know whether that is ever a thing that will happen for me anymore.

There are so few things that I was unwilling or unable to compromise on. There are so many things I did compromise on, so many things I gave up on to be with them, and to help them reach their goals. And there was one thing in the entire world I wouldn’t give up for them, and that’s the one thing they decided they wouldn’t help me with.

It is the actual worst thing they could have done, within the realm of things it would have been even remotely plausible for them to do.

And so I am angry. I am angry that I have given up so many small and large potential opportunities in my life because I thought we were working together toward this one goal that is more important to me than anything. I am angry that I have apparently wasted more than half a decade by trusting someone else’s intention to help me with this goal, when if they had never made me that promise, I would have been looking elsewhere, and maybe I would have found someone who actually shared my conviction and desire.

If I hadn’t trusted in this person, over and over again. If I hadn’t been willing to wait for them. If I hadn’t convinced myself they were worth it, that it would work out in the end, who knows where I’d be now?

It definitely couldn’t be any more of a mess than this.

And so I’m angry. At myself, for trusting the wrong person. At them, for not wanting a thing I want so desperately for them to want.

I think about all the work and effort that went into the project that was our marriage, and I look at the nothing it has come to (half of the savings I thought I had; half of the furniture needed to fill an apartment; I feel like a failed adult).

And I feel so utterly abandoned.

The worst part is, I don’t even really want to start over. What I want is to turn back the clock two years, to when everything was still ok. When I was happy.

I still want the life we were building together. Yes, I want children above all else, and that is that choice I have made, but I also really very much wanted specifically to share that with this particular person. I can’t imagine a better life than the one I was promised to me and then had taken away.

Of course, there is no going back. I couldn’t even get those feelings back if I had the option to, any more. But I don’t know how to move forward from this, either.

I know that part of what I need it time. I know these things will heal. They have to.

And despite everything, I know my life is pretty ok, even great in many ways. I have a job I really, really love, that is fulfilling and that I am usually excited to go to. There are so many wonderful people in my life who love me and support me in various ways, and who I get to love and support as well. My life is full of wonderful things. The core of my life has fallen apart, but I am still in one piece, as I always have been, as I always am.

But at the same time, I am still really looking forward to the day when I can finally say that I got through an entire a week without crying myself to sleep.

And it is still very distinctly possible that the gamble I made on this marriage will ultimately mean that I never do get to have kids. To be honest, I think that is why I can’t decide how much anger it is appropriate for me to have, how much it is appropriate to actually direct at my partner, or at myself. Because only time will answer for me whether this is a forgivable betrayal on their part, whether this was a forgivable mistake on my part.

Only time will tell whether this is really an amicable break-up.

So yeah, it’s Schrodinger’s divorce.

Marriage and ‘motherhood’: discontents from before I realized I am genderqueer

[I wrote this about three and a half years ago on my old livejournal account, not too long before I figured out that I am non-binary. I thought of it recently and realized it might have a place here, since I do a lot of dancing around my discomfort with applying certain female terms to myself, and being perceive din certain traditionally female roles, centering specifically around the institution of marriage, and the entire idea of motherhood. It’s been lightly edited on account of it contained my spouse-person’s birth name. Anyway, here you go.]

So, I’ve been realizing lately that I have a really complex attitude toward this whole “having kids one day” thing. ‘Cause I really, really want to do it, and it’s something I’ve had no real doubts about since I was about 19 (like, an in-my-gut, irrational knowing, which is something I don’t often experience, let alone give much merit to. This one is not to be ignored, though.) I am, however, intensely uncomfortable with the idea of being a “mother.” Or, probably more accurately, the idea of being perceived as a mother.

This really isn’t an odd thing for me, either. I also have issues with being (I guess at least semantically accurately) in a heterosexual marriage. I totally love my spouse-person and being married to him makes me immensely happy, but I hate that it allows my parents to lean back and think “well, obviously you were just straight all along!” when in reality my marriage is totally queer, (I can’t even give blood any more!) and that’s the only kind of marriage I could ever be happy in! This is one of the many reasons that I wanted to elope – there was no way I could handle the kind of heteronormativity that I’d have wound up performing in a wedding if people were there. It was the only way I could avoid the whole “being given to one man (my lovely spouse-person!) by another man (my father, with whom I have a complicated and problematic relationship to begin with)” performance without dealing with, at best, a major shitstorm temper tantrum from my father and serious emotional guilt-trippage. This way he didn’t have to take it personally, at least.

I also hate the whole idea that a big wedding allows family and friends to show their support and approval of the “new” couple. I’m sure that this is a lovely thing for many people, but I absolutely had to decide years ago that my parents approval/support of my relationships was not going to affect my choices; they forfeited that right when I was guilt-tripped for having the audacity to have fallen in love with a woman (literally, I was sat down and told how much it hurt my mother). This makes it really hard for me to be happy that they both really like my spouse-person (like, a lot, and with a level of positivity that my even brothers’ partners have never garnered) [Note: they no longer feel this way, because they decided that it’s somehow his ‘fault’ that I’m trans, or something?]. And I generally feel like commitments between pairs (or groups) of people are just that: commitments among those people, and not the domain of other people. I wanted my wedding to be private, because I feel like my commitment to my spouse-person is a very personal thing that is not accurately represented by the social construct of the wedding, and I wanted to avoid (at least in the moment) watching people project all sorts of unintended meanings onto it.

And this isn’t entirely true; there are plenty of people I’d have been happy to have witness the wedding in person – but, since my parents weren’t in that number, elopement simplified things greatly.

But right now I actually wanted to untangle my feelings around procreation. I think this surfaced back to my consciousness because my mother (for the first time ever, to her credit – I know she actually, seriously, doesn’t want to pressure me) played the “so… grandkids?” card the last time I talked to her. It was sort of deflected onto my older brother, but I’m sure she’s not actually picky about the source. And I’m like “well, yeah, eventually” but I don’t want to say that to her because it’ll be another nail in the coffin of me being the good, normal daughter [sic. Also, yeah, I’ve since blown the hinges off this particular coffin, so…] that somehow justifies her life choices. And I don’t want to be that.

But I don’t think there’s any way for me to privately have kids. So it’s going to a really stressful thing for me, ultimately, to try to walk that line between alienating people and making sure that I have enough space and independence to handle that part of my life the way I want it to be handled, and to be a parent without being a ‘mother,’ in the same way that I try (but often fail, at least in the ways I am perceived) to be married, but not, you know, in a straight way.

My Theory of Love

One of the things I find really tricky in talking about romantic relationships is defining what exactly it is that differentiates them from friendships, or from any other kind of non-romantic love relationship. It’s a very difficult thing to put ones finger on, though I have some ideas.

Ain’t it romantic?

The big thing, is, of course, romantic love. Which, as I understand it, (and because I feel compelled to put this in the most unromantic way possible) is largely a chemical process in the brain that can be compared to addiction. When we are romantically in love with a person, our brain feeds us happy-making chemicals when we are around them, and that makes us want to be around them.

This, though, is obviously a bit of an over-simplification. I have no idea, for instance, what causes this kind of feedback loop to start – what makes us fall in love with some people and not others? For me, the only definite necessary elements are about me; I fall in love when I am in a mental state that allows me to be open with another person. In short, I fall in love with people that I feel comfortable being vulnerable with, and to be perfectly honest, my vulnerability may not be directly related to the person in the moment. It may have more to do with he greater context of my life and mental state related to things that have nothing to do with the person, but I do need to be in a particular mental place to fall in love. Though there’s obviously more to it than that. I suppose the other person has to be responsive to my openness an vulnerability, because otherwise the experience could be quite a negative one for me.

For me, there’s also this squishy period during the falling in love process, where I’m quite certain I could choose to shut down and abort, and not become emotionally entangled. I’m not sure, because I’ve never done this, but I’ve definitely been in a hazy place of “this is a person I could conceivably fall in love with” and made a conscious choice to lean into that possibility, and that’s how falling in love has historically worked for me. I’ve even been able to hold myself in the fuzzy, squishy potential-filled status period with some people. For these people, I don’t feel like it’s accurate to say I ever fell in love with them, just that I definitely could have.

So, for me, the ultimate difference between a really good, meaningful platonic relationship, and a romantic one, is a question of how I choose to approach it (and, of course, the other person’s inclinations). Of course, while this sounds like a really minor difference, it still has huge implications for the substance of the relationship. Being in love is exactly like how all the stupid love stories in movies and on the radio make it out to be, and all the shit that you assumed was schlocky exaggeration when you’d never been in love is suddenly so totally 100% exactly how you feel, and really, it’s not even close actually, and real love is so much bigger and better than any of those media have ever been able t communicate, you know?

It feels life-changing. And it’s wonderful and powerful and valuable, to the people who experience it. But substantially, I’m not sure how important it is. And I mean it. This kind of love, the one I’ve been trying to describe, is what I tend to think of as “Big Love”. It’s something I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have experienced more than once in my life, and to have with my husband now, but at the same time, it’s not necessarily what I value most in my relationship with him.

The thing about Big Love, is that’s it’s volatile. And it’s actually not something that’s totally sustainable over the long-term; I believe I’ve read that the brain can only sustain it for a couple of years at most. And we’ve been together significantly longer than that now, so it’s fair to say we haven’t felt the Big Love for each other throughout the entire course of our relationship. And in fact, I can tell you truthfully that I haven’t; that at times, I have loved him no more or less than other important people in my life; an that at times, I realized that I could choose to not love him anymore, and that it would be relatively painless on my part to do so. I’ve always chosen to lean back in and fall back in love, and the Big Love has always reignited, easily and comfortably.

I mean, relationships? They do take work. But love, itself? That part, for me, is easy. It kind of always has been. And as long as I continue to choose to love him, our marriage will continue to be worth the work required to keep it going. Which looks like a weird feedback loop, where the marriage is the reason I choose to stay in love, and being in love is the reason I value the marriage, but it’s not that, really. I value the marriage because it’s something we both chose – it’s a project we have undertaken together, as partners, and as friends, and loving each other is itself one aspect of that project.

Really, at the bottom, a strong friendship is the reason our romance stays strong. So, the difference between a truly loving friendship and a romance? As far as I’m concerned, it’s what you choose, together, to make of it.

And all of this, this is why I’m able to be happy an comfortable in a poly relationship. I think that so often, when people have debilitating jealousy issues, or respond to the idea of their partner caring about someone else, it’s because we frame love as a force of nature. It’s something that just happens; it strikes without warning, and more importantly, it’s an unstoppable force. And if we believe this narrative, it’s only natural to want to prevent our partners from being exposed to people that they might accidentally fall in love with.

I mean, I used to just wonder at how little some people trust the people they supposedly love, and I never understood why people would make formal commitments to be faithful if neither one really believed the other. But I think I understand now that for many people, it’s not about whether they trust their partner. It’s simply that we’re tricked into believing that they have no control in the matter – that even if we trust their intention enough to accept their promise of fidelity, when it comes right down to it, they don’t get to choose whether they will fall in love with someone else and break our hearts.

But, I know that I chose to love the man that I do, and I know that he chose to love me. And the only thing I need to trust in is that he will continue to make the same choice throughout the years, for that is the real commitment that we have made to one another. Luck’s got nothing to do with it.

It really is as simple as this.

And of course, I know that there are other factors, both internal and external, that may change how we feel about our relationship to one other. And we may not spend the rest of our lives together; few people do. But the thing that I do know, for sure, is that if we choose to part ways, it won’t be because the magical, uncontrollable spirit of love abandons us. It will be because our relationship no longer represents the practical, mutually beneficial arrangement for us that it currently does. It will have run its course, and I suspect that I will judge it to have been successful, no matter when it ends, for having improved both of our lives for its duration.

And honestly, I really hope we’re smart enough to end it if that ever ceases to be the case. I think that’s part of what real love and actually caring about each other is about.

And as of this writing, I totally intend to keep on loving this man with all my heart for decades to come.

UPDATE: there was a bunch of stuff I couldn’t fit into this post, so there’s a part 2 here

Forward Thinking: What is the purpose of marriage?

This post is written in response to the Forward Thinking prompt “what is the purpose of marriage?”

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am somewhat of a marriage agnostic. Really, lately I’ve been leaning toward being a marriage abolitionist. I am not certain that governments should be issuing marriages at all, because I am quite frankly unsure of the purpose of them doing so. But before I can figure out whether there is a purpose to governmental recognition of marriage, I will need to examine the general purpose of marriage, on two levels: the personal and the societal.

On a personal level, marriage is generally understood to be an outward expression and demonstration of love and commitment between two individuals. In making a lifelong commitment to my partner, I am making a statement about trust and mutual understanding, and together we made a mutual commitment to building a life together, working toward shared goals (raising a family) and also supporting each other in our individual passions (careers and hobbies). I see it as a long-term collaborative project to maximize both of our happiness. And this is all wonderful and lovely and important. To me. And to my partner. But I’m not egotistical enough to think that people in general should care about the arrangement that we have made with one another. And I think it’s patently ridiculous to expect the government to grant me extra legal protections and privileges on the grounds that we just love each so much.

So, the societal aspect, then. Marriage is very often framed as an institution with a purpose of protecting children; it is discussed as an arrangement that supports the continuation of society. If we accept that the two-parent structure is a generally stable environment for children, then there may be some societal motivation to encourage people to get married, and to make life easier for them once they have made that commitment. Except that, really, this is just an argument for extending marriage-like privileges to people who are raising children together. If marriage (as it is civilly understand) is indeed all about children, why don’t we actually make it about children, rather than some commitment between two people that has nothing to do with children whatsoever? A different institution would better serve the purpose of supporting and benefiting children than marriage currently does.

But maybe the ways in which child-free couples benefit from marriage has its own social value, and thus it can still be considered a purposeful institution? I mean, I’m not arguing that the trappings of marriage aren’t important. I get that things like spousal health benefits and other legal entitlements that come with marriage are good things that make people’s lives easier. Part of why I am (legally) married is so that I can benefit from some of the protections that are afforded by that license. So, hey, I guess marriage helps make people’s lives easier, so it’s just a good thing and there’s no reason to change it, right?

Um, no. Not right at all actually. Because, yeah, the government extends some nice little bonuses and benefits to married people, but those bonuses come at the expense of unmarried people. As it stands, unless there is actually some societal benefit that comes from incentivizing marriage (unless there is a purpose to encouraging people to commit to one another), all that we are accomplishing by continuing to recognize these unions and grant them privileges is perpetuating a system in which, for no reason whatsoever, we prioritize and privilege coupled people over single people. This is rank discrimination. People do not deserve special legal status simply because they are in love, no matter how special and beautiful that love may be to them.

Here’s the thing: the way that the civil institution of marriage is organized seems in many ways for the purpose of enabling the more traditional form of marriage, in which one partner works outside the home and earns money, while the other partner works within the home, fulfilling various tasks and taking care of the house and children, thus enabling the money-earning partner to be a better worker and focus more time and energy on their work tasks (indirectly benefiting the employer). In this model, I can see the sense in things like extending certain employment benefits to cover spouses, and I can even see why the government might want to offer incentives so that people will remain married, as the partner who works at home is in an extremely vulnerable position where, despite the value of their own labour, they are entirely dependent on their spouse for their livelihood.

This is really all to say that when women were considered to be mostly or wholly dependent creatures, the government had good reason to encourage men to commit to supporting a wife, thus removing her from the risk of needing social assistance. It made sense to grant more privileges to a man who accepted someone as his wife, because he was benefiting the government in turn.

But this not really the case today. Sure, sharing a living space with someone can reduce one’s expenses and make it easier to afford a good quality of life. So, in some ways, couplehood has certain advantages, and once again, it may be in society’s best interest to encourage people to share living spaces and expenses, to reduce their risk of needing social assistance. But I see no reason why, in this context, romantic couples should be treated any differently than roommates of other varieties. Roommates would surely benefit from being eligible for each other’s health insurance benefits, and it would make their lives easier in the same way that spouses lives are improved by this privilege. Again, we seem to think that the love shared by the romantic couple makes them more deserving of this kind of extra financial support, but the difference between the couple that is so very in love and sharing finances, and two friends who are similarly sharing expenses and splitting household chores, has zero societal value, and there is no purpose to privileging one arrangement over the other (I really cannot stress this enough).

So, what else do couples do? Well, sometimes one partner becomes a primary caregiver to the other if they become disabled in some way. Again, I can see here why it might be beneficial to society to encourage such an arrangement. But again, I see no reason why this arrangement is made more valuable by romantic love than it is when one friend takes on responsibility for another’s care, or when a child takes over the are of their parent. There are sometimes certain tax benefits available to people in the latter situation, but these benefits don’t hold a candle to those offered to married people.

I really just don’t see the purpose (in terms of societal benefit) of perpetuating the civil institution of marriage, and it is for this reason that I’m beginning to favour abolition. If there are no general societal benefits resulting from the privileging of romantic couples over single people, over close friends, and over other family formations and social support structures, then marriage is nothing more than a purposeless and patently discriminatory institution (even when it is made available to straight and queer people alike).

I do want to reiterate, though, that I do not believe that marriage is a valueless social institution. I believe that romantic love is special and magical and life-changing and important and worthy of celebration. The commitment that my partner and I have made to each other is immensely valuable to me, and even has some value to the people in our lives who are concerned about our happiness. And I also understand the cultural and religious value of marriage ceremonies. I just don’t see why anyone not impacted by the couple’s decision should care, and I certainly don’t see how it benefits society at large to grant privileges to people who make the decision to marry.

Marriage: it’s not really a ‘right’

Let’s be very clear up front: I do absolutely support the fight for same-sex marriage. Given that marriage is a valuable set of privileges that a government is in the business of offering to its citizens, it is absolutely necessary that those privileges be equally available to all citizens. What I’m not always clear on is *why* the government is in the business of granting marriages and the accompanying privileges and status that are part and parcel with a marriage license, or whether it should necessarily be a thing at all.

What really bothers me is the way that things like marriage, in the context of LGB politics, are talked about as “rights”. I honestly don’t think that marriage is a right. I don’t think that governments are obligated to recognize marriage at all, and I wouldn’t necessarily be against the abolition of the civil institution of marriage altogether (I’m not really for the abolition of marriage either; I’m somewhat of a marriage agnostic in many ways, though I also acknowledge that I have taken advantage of the institutions privileges and its availability to me). The actual right that we should be talking about when we discuss same-sex marriage or whatever other government-granted privileges from which LGB people are discriminatorily excluded is simply the right to equal treatment. People don’t have a right to have a government that grants marriages, to them or to anyone, but if a government is granting marriages, then everyone should have the equal right to attain that privilege.

So, as long as governments continue to issue marriage licenses, I am absolutely in favour of those licenses being available to all forms of (consenting adult) couples, regardless of the relative sexes of those involved, and I believe that LGB people have an absolute right to be included in that institution as long as it exists. But I still don’t think that marriage, in and of itself, is a right.

Marriage and surnames: All right, I’ll bite

So the topic of name changes associated with marriage is making the rounds, with a bunch of really strongly articulated opinions and perspectives that I feel like I’d like to deconstruct a little bit.

We’ve got Jill Filipovic writing at the Guardian about how most of the reasons that people women give for changing their names when they get married don’t make any sense (to her, anyway – Melissa over at Shakesville takes down Jill’s dismissal of the reasons pretty soundly). Her article is very focused on the idea that one’s name is one’s identity, which I simply don’t buy. Or at least, I don’t buy that as an argument not to change your name.

Jill’s argument on this point is as follows:

…Jill Filipovic is my name and my identity. Jill Smith is a different person.

That is fundamentally why I oppose changing your name (and why I look forward to the wider legalization of same-sex marriage, which in addition to just being good and right, will challenge the idea that there are naturally different roles for men and women within the marital unit). Identities matter, and the words we put on things are part of how we make them real.

There’s a number of issues with this. The most glaring is her opposition to anyone changing their name being justified by her own personal feelings of identity around her own name. Newsflash: we don’t all have the same relationship with our names as you do with yours, Jill. Further, all of her anti-name change arguments are systematically weakened when she makes points about how she’d like to see man changing their names, and how the existence same-sex marriage will ultimately help straight women escape the patriarchal nature of marriage. I’m not going to probe too far into this, but Jill does seem to argue two contradictory positions throughout the article, wherein she points out problematic nature of the prevalence of women changing their names to match their spouses, and the lack of other viable options (which I generally agree with) by giving reasons why no one should ever change their names (to which I say, wait, what now?).

Ok, but she also points out that the way we label things, and what we choose to call ourselves, are important and meaningful ways of constructing identity. Absolutely, this is true. The words we choose to apply to ourselves, and the ones we eschew, are important. But I don’t think that my last name, in particular, is as important as Jill has made it out to be here. The fact is that if I introduce myself to someone new as Firstname Lastname, regardless of which last name I use, they aren’t going to know whether I am married, or whether my last name is the same as my husband’s. Yes, people who already knew me before I changed my name will note the change, but I would hope that the things they actually know about me and my identity are more important to those people than my damn name, which since I didn’t choose it in the first place, never had all that much to say about me, really. It never identified anything about me other than “this is the name my parents chose to give me”. And it doesn’t carry meaning in the way that other labels that I actively identify with (queer, poly, nonbinary, etc.) do.

But this isn’t even my core objection to Jill’s argument that names shouldn’t be changed because they are tied to identity. Even if I accepted that this tie existed, quite frankly, my identity isn’t static. It’s constantly fluctuating in all kinds of ways. My online personae are multitudinous, dependent on the time of my life when I joined various communities, and many other factors – I only use my real name on the facebook. Thus, the fact that I’ve changed my name before, and I’m toying with doing so again, simply doesn’t make me feel like I’m risking losing my identity.

Ultimately, I think that names are very important to different people for different reasons, and changing your name can be a great way of claiming control over your identity and expressing yourself.

Of course, I don’t really think that it’s valid to say when women change their last name to match their husband’s, it’s a great act of self-expression and control. It’s not, really. It is, in many ways, a great act of acquiescence and conformity to traditions that are inarguably based in fucked up ideas of women as property, of a woman’s identity being truly and entirely contained in first, who her father is, and then later, who her husband is. I mean, that’s pretty not okay, and the degree to which this “tradition” has stayed strong as we’ve managed to change and redefine so many other aspects of how marriage works is baffling and disturbing to me, truly.

Not least because it’s so often men that are so strongly attached to the idea of the women they marry changing their names. Confidential to the dudes out there: if you’re the one who cares so damn much about you and your future wife having the same name, you should fucking well be willing to go through the effort and sacrifice of changing your own damn name. If you’re unwilling to consider this option, either a) it’s not actually that important to you, or b) you think it’s really important to have control over that aspect of your wife’s identity, which is creepy and misogynist, and indicates that you actually don’t see her as your equal.

That said, I have the same last name as my husband (a cis man, no less!), and I’m the one who changed my name to make it so. It’s never been a choice I’ve been 100% comfy with, because, yeah, I know all of the above to be true. I’m also not entirely sure where I fit in this conversation, as a nonbinary person, but for the purposes of this post I’ll have to admit that in general, my husband and I benefit from het cis privilege, even though neither of as are straight, and only one of us is cis. We just do, and even though I carry classic queer guilt about, I’m not going to give up what we have on the basis of that guilt (nor do I think any reasonable people would actually suggest I should).

And knowing all of that, I changed my name. For a lot of reasons, really. But at the heart, it came down to something really prosaic and simple: it happened that I had been wanting to shed my existing last name anyway when we decided to get married (for reasons that aren’t important here, but suffice to say for Jill’s sake, that due to the nature of my name, I’ve always felt my identity was more strongly tied to my fairly unique first name than my surname). And where I live, you can change your name to match your spouse’s really easily (and for free!), while the process of changing your name in any other way, for any other reason is far more laborious, involves a lot of hoop jumping and paying some fees. And I am damn lazy – even taking the easy route, it took a couple of years to get most of my IDs updated, and my passport is still in my old name (and I’m still registered at school under my old name, with no plans to change that. I have reasons!).

Yup, I bought into the tradition because institutional sexism makes it easier to make that choice than to exercise any of the other options Jill presents (all of which I think are valid, I should say. I particularly love the idea of a newly married couple picking their own surname and both changing their names – I’m just saying that these options are not as easily exercised, and generally involve getting your birth certificate altered). And it really is as simple as that.

So my point here is that if we want to change the choices people are making, we need to change the system. We have to make all of the choices equally accessible, and we have to acknowledge that the whole name-change-upon-marriage phenomenon is not just about buying into societal biases, and taking the easy route in terms of not pushing back against societal norms, it’s about taking the easy route institutionally as well.

Despite (and also because of?) all of this, I am still considering a brand new name change – though my existing first name is rare enough that I occasionally get people who don’t immediately assume a gender when it’s the only information they have on me (the fact that it’s technically a surname probably contributes to this), most people who see the name associate it pretty strongly with the gender I was assigned at birth. And in fact, everyone I’ve ever heard of with the name has been of that gender.

That said, as I noted above I’m actually quite attached to my first name as a part of my identity, so if I were to change my first name to something more gender-neutral, I’d also make my current first name into my new surname (I’d be Kasey [current first name], which I kind of like).

The idea of changing my surname in this way really intrigues me, actually. I was given the name I have because the patrilineal surname tradition was going to kill off a branch of our family. There were no male heirs to the name, and since there’s clearly no other way to pass on a surname, (no matter how important it is to the family to keep the name alive, apparently) the name was totally necessarily changed into a first name, and bequeathed to me. To change the name back into a surname, as it should rightfully be, would be a wonderful, mildly subversive, feminist act for me, especially if it were combined with passing the name on to my child/ren. And it would totally make up for the guilt I’ve felt about my prior name change, at least.

But, as I say, I am lazy. So this is a thing I’ll probably be sitting on for a while. We shall see!