The mark of a second rate culture is its willingness to create second-class citizens. That is especially the case when it is done in the interest of advancing party supremacy, enforcing economic privilege, or institutionalizing religious humbug. Starting with Reagan, we just completed thirty-plus years of that behavior. If you are gay in America, you must be pretty fed up what with Prop 8 sitting in the middle of the brand new Obama vista. Enter I Do, an anthology of stories about gay and lesbian coupling that in large part is both entertaining and should work well for its stated purpose as a way to raise funds to defeat Prop 8.
By and large these stories are entertaining, written well, and make a convincing agitprop case against Prop 8 and for the right to gay marriage. The stories are sometimes truly subtle and articulate such as “The Lindorm Twin” by Tracey Pennington, which employs the device of the fairy tale to create a political parable about the destructive force of bigotry against gays, or anyone for that matter. It has the sort of ironic insight one finds in Yevgheny Shvarts’s “The Dragon” in which myths of the normative both serve and distort human self-understanding.
There are several stories that fit the best model of literary romance. In Lisabet Sarai’s “Making Memory,” two women achieve discovery and redemption in a brief, passionate encounter. Each surrenders a part of herself to her lover, and in so giving, gains redemptive renewal. “Desire and Disguise” byAlex Beecroft is a warm-hearted story of a relationship that is simply growing stronger. I am unable to say whether the pleasure of reading Beecroft’s story lies more in its generosity of spirit or in the author’s fluid and pleasant English. At any rate the story shows a mastery of complex sentences, the subjunctive mood, and a command of compound tenses that one rarely sees in English prose these days.
Romance has come to mean fiction laced with conventional bourgeois sentiment in place of actual feeling. It may dabble in swashbuckling and a sort of pristine prurience, but it is, finally, politically correct feeling leading toward a comfortable resolution of discord. Everyone winds up with a lot of self-esteem. That sort of romance has its origins in the 18th century bourgeois novel, the plot of which was usually based on the misfortunes of a good-hearted, virtuous, and naive hero, like Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, who suffers more than he deserves. Rip all the bodices you like, the romance novel is simply a disguised form of its milder predecessor. Goldsmith, of course, did not have to compete with reality television.
The real meaning of romance is heroic love of such magnitude that it is redemptive. We recognize the intrigues of As You Like It and Love’s Labour’s Lost, wherein the characters realize that love offers rewards beyond the mash notes and the first stolen kisses. In fact, romance need not be between lovers or spouses at all because the ultimate test of love in romance is sacrifice. Hence, Miranda’s future is redeemed by Prospero’s surrender of his magic powers. Cordelia is honored in death and defeat by Lear’s rediscovery of his love for her and their filial bond. That bond is the true arc of romance, that the power of the relationship is greater than the sum of the lovers.
“I Do” presents us with the kind of love that leads to marriage. Marriage necessarily leads to continuity beyond death. The point is that this sort of love is so great that even the inevitability of death is not an obstacle to its fruition.
As the stories in I Do grow steamier and less based in affect, they lose some of their energy. That’s not because of the subject matter, though that does tend to become redundant -- how many ways can you swallow a mouthful of cum and still say something interesting about it? The problem is the writing becomes rigid and unnatural. “Finally Forever” by Jeanne Barrack launches a story composed of lumpy badinage between two Jewish men preparing for their wedding. That would be fine if the dialogue were not such an enforced exercise in merriment that you wind up gritting your teeth. Worse still, the characters find themselves cute. These two guys would be delighted to stay locked in Stacy and Clinton’s 360-degree mirror for days on end.
“Code of Honor” by Marequesate presents a different problem in which sentences are often as rigid and awkward as the principal characters, two lover-studs in the French Foreign Legion where being gay, we are told, is strictly forbidden. I understand on good authority that is indeed the case as in most military organizations for reasons of their own perceiving. Given its enforced centrality to the story, however, this secrecy seems a literary contrivance of the sort that porn often employs for hyperbolic effect.
One can forgive a certain repetitive militancy among a portion of the stories, as the authors’ collective case is legitimate. Nonetheless, one does have to ask oneself, “What is the cause here?”
Like all political art, there is the danger of being arch rather than reaching for the profound. The net result is that the characters in some of these stories speechify about the condition of being gay almost as though it were an abstract moral state of being. From there they move on to a fundamental error: they extrapolate to the rather pathological assumption that all gay people should want to be married and that, as such, they are not being true to themselves or their gayness if they don’t. Whereas the real point is that all people, regardless of their particulars, should have the right to be married – with all attendant benefits and privileges – if they so desire.
The history of marriage is the history of property rights. It was only an issue for the propertied classes because they had something to lose in matters of inheritance, and whose numbers grew exponentially from the beginning of the industrial revolution. Thus what had been a system of feudal contracts for the nobles became a way of cementing financial relationships for the bourgeois. The notion of romantic love connected with marriage is largely a literary conceit of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
While that all went on, Christianity attempted to annex sexuality/love even if it still finds these impulses carnal, distasteful, and spiritually degrading. The marriage license was a rubber stamp for the soul by making sex legal. Prior to modern psychology in the 20th century, everyone pretty much assumed sex was just inexplicably there in the human construct just as it is in rabbits. It was probably clearer thinking and caused less general suffering than the average therapist, despite being far less profitable. In short, marriage doesn’t make much sense beyond issues of property whether you are gay, straight, or somewhere in between.
Therefore, who and what is protected by making marriage the exclusive preserve of heterosexuals, is not only moot, but also inarguable tribal nonsense, a point which I Do makes well. The stories assert that marriage should not exist as a weapon for class and economic exclusion. What is more, being a married heterosexual should no more "give you the conch" in passing judgment about the sanctity of this or that sort of relationship than being homosexual should take it away. In law, marriage is about on a par with the significance we attach to owning a house. It is either one’s principal liability or asset depending on how you look at it. To see it as more than that, clouds the issue.
We harm all Americans when some of us are legally reduced from being full citizens. That is especially true when the majority winds up serving the peculiar economic aims and religious whims of factions like the Republican rightwing as they did with Prop 8. When we make any class of citizens less than any other class of citizens, we all become less than we can be and therefore less than we should aspire to be.
The ultimate wrong done by Prop 8 is that it denies all Americans their rightful pursuit of liberty and justice. What is just is neither absolute nor fixed. Like our notion of liberty, it must evolve as our understanding of the world and others evolves. Therefore, the sound claim against Prop 8 is not one of special pleading for a minority, for they alone are not the ones wronged. It is at the heart our democracy that no man or woman is less than any other even if tradition has made it seem so. We grow by outgrowing our traditions, not by being slaves to them.
As per the publisher, all proceeds from the sale of this anthology will be donated to the Lambda Legal Defense to fight Prop 8 in support of marriage equality for all.