Image Credit: http://hqwallbase.com/141109-sad-bride/
You’ll say I deserve to be alone, and I’ll agree wholeheartedly. He’d be better off. I’ve told him as much, but he’s so stubbornly romantic.
It’s something of a taboo to speak of the blessed union of marriage as being anything less than blissful contentment, at least during the first year. After that, you’re free to launch into any assortment of prêt-à-porter one-liners regarding diminished sexual returns, husbandly vulgarities and overbearing wives. Now, with many states recognising gay marriage, the floodgates have seemingly been thrown open, sending a torrent of happy couples racing for the alter and into the heady warmth of nuptial Elysium, or so they think. While I support marriage in every permutation, I feel as though the institution as it stands is still bogged down by antiquated and sexist expectations. Before you roll your eyes, let me assure you that it is not my intention to delve into a feminist debate of any-kind, namely because the sexism, in this case, is not limited to women. Gay men, lesbian, intersexed, transgendered and even asexual couples it seems are all bound by societal ideologies surrounding the marriage partnership.
While a marriage can only be defined by the two partners in it, the expectations of what this bond is to mean are ingrained in us by from little up and permeate every aspect of the relationship. Society at large may smile and applaud non-traditional unions, and yet there is still the expectation that these couplings, underneath it all are just guised versions of husband and wife. While love is indeed universal, gender identity isn’t, and it is becoming more and more obvious that people cannot fathom this idea.
“So… which one of them is the man?”
It’s a question asked under the breath of wedding guests as they watch non-binary couples march to the alter. A pestering query, which comes innocently enough, yet plagues non-traditional couples whether they’re married or otherwise. Whether the couple consists of two women, two men or any other union between fellow humans (or in my case humanoid entities) one partner has to be identified as the dominant-”the man.”
“Oh, it’s pretty obvious- She’s the butch and she’s the femme. You can tell because of the hair.”
“Well, he’s clearly the man, because his boyfriend acts all swishy, you know, with all his little outfits and the hair-gel.”
What many people fail to understand is that clothing, hair cut or the amount of product in an individuals hair are in no way indicative of their role in a partnership. Dominance is far more transient in non-traditional couplings, based more on a given situation at hand and an individual partner’s strengths or weaknesses rather than whose hair is shorter. The truth is that in many traditional marriages this is also the case, but we’re loath to admit it. When a man asserts his dominance, it’s expected, where as when a woman asserts hers, society makes jokes about her being a nag and pities her poor hen pecked hubby. Women learn that to maintain a polite face and avoid the title of “bitch” or “shrew” they cannot be as blunt and forthright with their opinions. In this way social pressures perpetuate the idea of the male as the dominant.
Beyond the social demands there are further expectations placed upon the female partner, longstanding from times in which women could not own property but were instead regarded as property themselves. Chief among these out-dated notions is the abandonment of a woman’s maiden name in lieu of her husband’s. While many modern women elect to take the traditional route, it is no longer necessity. Yet as any woman who has kept her last name will tell you, society looks down it’s nose at this decision as selfish and brazen.
“Well, she’s obviously more committed to her career than her marriage!”
“Clearly, she doesn’t really love him. It’ll just make the inevitable divorce easier later on.”
“She’s only in it for herself, how sad, marriage is supposed to be a compromise.”
Compromise? Why such criticism never befalls the husband’s failure to adopt his wife’s name is unknown, but likely routes again in tradition. There is that unspoken rule that the man defines a marriage.
Now, we bring in couples that consist of two women, two men, or even transgendered individuals, whom is expected to take on a new moniker? Should it be the swishy one? The lady with the less butchy hair-do? Many non-traditional couples do elect to adopt one partner’s name or a hyphenated version of both, and yet many do away with this tradition all together. People who might otherwise describe themselves as open minded individuals seem shocked and dismayed when they learn that this antiquated tid-bit was so easily tossed to the wind. Someone just has to be “the man,” don’t they?
I could prattle on with example after example of gender biased thinking regarding non-traditional unions, but the core issue is that while laws may change, human mind-sets are far more challenging things to alter. It is for this reason that I myself am suffering post-marital regret.
A Brief Personal History
I’ve been in several long-term relationships in the past; in fact I’m actually a bit of a serial monogamist. I enjoyed a wonderful, warm relationship with one woman that spanned across several decades. She called me her husband, though no vows were exchanged. After our romance came to it’s crescendo, I suffered a tumultuous relationship with an ill-tempered Bolshevik for six years. I think I stayed because I had been left famished for some kind of companionship. In our on again off again periods, I had trysts with Kaiser soldiers (more out of rebellion than anything else) and a buxom young fräulein with some unfortunate tattoos from a stint in prison.
Later, I would opt for the safety of an aloof, largely empathetic hermit for another ten years. He was a man who had given up on life, but was too afraid to end it all, deciding instead to wait out death in exile. It was a horrible period of stagnation and silent misery, where I wandered like a ghost in and out of his life. He barely acknowledging my presence, thinking me a hallucination with which he occasionally bantered rather than a flesh and blood creature. Admittedly, that relationship continued because it was a tolerable alternative to the rejection and disappointment of finding new love. A fresh Hell is far worse than the Hell you know.
In my past relationships, marriage really never came up- at least not in seriousness. For one, I fail to make the cut as solidly male or female. At my birth, the human mid-wife declared me a little girl, much to my father’s chagrin. This wasn’t because he had longed for an heir or anything so conventional, but rather that his race, the Fatine, and by inheritance my own, enjoy three genders, male, female and neuter (sometimes called drone), myself being the later.
I keep meaning to write a piece outlining the fundamental differences between my race and humanity at large. This pending essay will offer a satisfactory explanation of our three-gender system, but alas I’m still working out the kinks on it. To offer a much-abbreviated explanation, if you are not among the breeding populace, your biological sex really has no implication. I fail to understand why the same is not true with humans.
Perhaps biology is to blame. A woman is after all, in strictly biological terms, a means of incubating new life. Beauty, the trait most indicative of femaleness, exists purely to foster breeding. It is a transient quality, which diminishes (in conventional terms anyway) the further a woman is from optimal breeding age. Society will always be more judgemental of women, if for no other reason than that they have the greater investment in the sustainment of the species. A woman must not only be judged a suitable specimen for impregnation, but further must be deemed of a worthy enough pedigree to care and nurture the resulting offspring, at least until such age as they might survive on their own. The male only imparts his seed.
The midwife who declared me female did so a goodly time ago (I’d just as soon not divulge my age.) Her verdict was made in a time before even humans acknowledged the grey areas existent in gender. Presumably, the absence of external genitalia was enough to make the determination of female. With time, it became painfully obvious that I was neither female nor male for that matter. In the modern -sometimes suffocating- politically conscious vernacular the phrase gender-neutral is tossed about. I suppose this is the most palatable way of identifying myself, freak or abomination being the oft-heard alternatives.
My mother, well versed in the ways of the Fatine, avoided naming me. She and my Nonnetto (grand-father) called me Piccolino (Little One) or Scarabeo (Beetle) but it was understood that these were endearments rather than a true name. Both my mother and Nonnetto succumbed to human ailments before my eighth birthday, leaving me to wander the streets of Venice alone. My father, enigma that he was, could seldom be depended upon, especially not when some measure of personal sacrifice was in order. Reluctantly, I admit it’s a trait he and I share. It was only by a fortuitous turn of events that I was adopted by Acadian sailors and given the name Marco, after the Piazza San Marco where I had been discovered.
Time would eventually deliver me into the home of Guillaume Duhême, A Québécois merchant. It would be his daughter, my adoptive sister, the first of many I would take in my long life, who would decide upon the name Marco A. Shatter. She’d chosen the name for the purpose of fitting a rhyme in one of the many limericks she so often concocted. That, and my penchant for breaking mirrors, but there in lies another story entirely. Later, her brother, who had become obsessed with ancient Greece, would decide that the A. stood for Achilleme, a misspelling of Achillem or the singular of Achilles. The Franco people are fond of adding unnecessary letters to their words.
A Variant of Love
I have loved each of my adoptive families, and have held a very sincere adoration for my partners past and present. I assure you that despite my apocryphal make-up, I do feel genuine kinship with people. Where things begin to differ is in the fact that I have no desire to breed, that is to say no libido to speak of. Even if I could offer of myself in this facility, and foster a pregnancy, I didn’t experience the kind of childhood that I could justify doling out on someone else. I don’t have the kind of face that I could in good conscience pass on to another generation. While I lack the vital parts for orgasm, I can empathically enjoy my partner’s pleasure to a degree, but after a time, it’s difficult to cast off the feelings of being used rather than loved.
While it’s doubtful that you can relate, perhaps you’ll understand me when I say that I’ve come to think of sex as the most boring part of a relationship. I can’t imagine selecting a partner based primarily on their genital configuration. Gay, straight or otherwise, sex simply isn’t something I care about.
I’d rather be with someone who stimulates me intellectually. Passion, rage, ecstasy or terror any of these are more nourishing to me than mere lust. By extension of this, physical appearance takes a back seat to engaging personality. Undoubtedly, I enjoy the symmetry to be found in the sculpt of a beautiful body. However, I don’t find myself inspired to coitus by this. Is that normal? For me it is, for the rest of the human world, hardly.
I realize I can’t expect humankind to universally understand attitudes so far beyond the norm. I’ve come to accept over the years that my gender, for the most part, will be determined by onlookers based upon whatever outfit I wear on a given day, or duty I’m performing. My perceived sex, and resulting gender role is as ephemeral as whether I wear a necktie or a necklace. When I’m at work, rigging cargo at the docks, well I’m a man, obviously. Eight hours later, when I go to pick up the dry cleaning or do the groceries I become a woman. As I lack any defined secondary sexual characteristics, I enjoy a kind of malleability. Humans however, hate fuzzy boundaries.
Back To The Subject of Marriage
I’m fortunate in that I’ve met a partner who accepts and loves my eccentricities rather than tolerates them. He’s as human as they come, with an aww shucks mid-west charm that I find both endearing and horrific. Endearing in that he was brought up to be a gentleman, treating politeness and courtesy as religion. He seems wholly devoid of the snark and cynicism that has infected American culture. Yet I find him horrific in that despite his seeming acceptance of me and all that I am, I cannot ignore that he comes from a very traditional German, protestant upbringing. Judgmental as it may be to think so, in the back of my mind I can’t help but wonder if his being with me is more an expression of late life rebellion, like a midlife crisis fused with unresolved teenage angst.
By the time he had come into my life, I had adopted the habit of speaking on marriage in rather flippant terms. After all, it was a thing I myself was ineligible for, so tossing out phrases like “You’re amazing, let’s get married this minute!” seemed harmless, even comical to me. Given this, I suppose I had no right to feel as startled as I did when he proposed.
Admittedly, it was flattering, yet at the same time, I was terrified by the finality of such a thing. My partner and I had developed such a comfortable symbiosis, why risk it by attempting to siphon a notoriously temporal emotion into a binding legal contract?
There are no shortage of cautionary tales about marriage. Spouses seemingly undergo a Kafkaesque metamorphosis, feeling secure enough to show all the ugliness they kept carefully tucked away before. There was no reprieve from the doubts which played upon my mind, but never among them was the eventually demotion I would suffer as a married person. It was not in the eyes of my husband that I became something less, but rather society. You see, it was he who was determined to be “the man.”
I’m less broad shouldered than my partner, lacking in bodily hair, a chiselled jaw or dramatic muscle tone. When the two of us stand side by side, these disparages (to human eyes) are determination of being female, and therein the supplicant party in the marriage. I even fostered this to a degree, electing to wear a bridal gown and veil to the ceremony. I figured, what other opportunity would I have to do so? I confess too that I couldn’t resist the pageantry of it all. My spouse met me at the alter wearing an equally elaborate costume, dressing in garb from the Napoleonic regency era. At the time, I don’t think either of us saw our attire as a statement of ascendency or surrender, but that’s just what it became.
It began immediately with my being addressed by my husband’s last name. While perhaps unconventional, it’s not unheard of for both partners to maintain their pre-marital identities. I politely corrected people on their mistake, which was returned with anything but polite responses. I hadn’t even begun to imagine the indignance of these parties, whose names were strangely absent from the marriage certificate. I was berated, shamed, and scolded through strained grins. It’s an unusual aspect of American culture, but any word spoken through a smile, is expected to be received as genteel, friendly, even playful.
“What’s the matter, you holding out for something better?”
“What are you, some kind of Feminazi?”
And by far and large; “Don’t you want people to know you’re married? Are you ashamed of your husband? I just don’t understand!”
What is there to understand? I didn’t change my name and nor did he. It seemed fairly self-explanatory, but I’d be forced to answer for my choice more than once that day. It was, in a word, insulting. Why should I suddenly choose to dispose of myself, the identity I’ve held my entire life and resume existence as someone new? My name has a history, it holds meaning to me, and furthermore I like it. I refuse to become an amalgamation and yet that, I was informed, was just what was expected of me. All I ever was, from this moment on was to be forgotten. The justification for this seemed to be no more than the fact that I had deigned to love someone. I hate to admit it, but the incessant guilt doled out and shaming tainted a love that had until then been whole-hearted and sincere.
I went on my honeymoon feeling sullied by the fact that to my friends, family, and as I would eventually discover the entire world, I was seen as inconsequential in this union. It was unfair to blame my husband, and yet even though I could not yet admit it to myself, there was a stain upon our concord. Later, he would unknowingly exacerbate things by addressing these same demanding questions with the explanation that I was a published author, and wanted to maintain my name for the sake of my career.
I found this equally as insulting, namely because it wasn’t true. He was offering up a paltry excuse to sate people who had no right meddling in our lives. Why should we bow to them? My decision not to change my name has nothing to do with my writing; I simply didn’t feel the need to adopt a wholly new identity.
“Well, it’s just a name, just words.” He rationalized.
“Then you change yours.”
He refused. Whether he was willing to admit such a thing to himself or not, names and words define our very existence. You can say that the opinions of others should hold no bearing and yet I doubt very much if he would take such a permissive stance should I elect to call him my rapist in lieu of my husband. Rapist is just a word after all, as is husband, just a name, but there is a profound difference in their meaning.
Life In His Shadow
When shopping for anything from groceries to clothing, clerks who are aware of my marital status will playfully ask “Uh oh, does your husband know you’re buying this?”
“Maybe you should ask your husband first.”
“Doesn’t your husband mind you wearing bulky things like this? You’re still newlyweds after all!”
My patience was quickly tried.
When we spoke to people as a couple, I couldn’t help but notice that it was my husband to whom they spoke rather than me. People shook his hand and merely bobbed their heads in my direction. Occasionally I was offered so much as a solid nod when I made a point. More often I was placated with the sort of smile you offer babbling children, the one that says, “That’s nice sweetie, but the grown-ups are talking now.”
At restaurants, waiters glancing at my husbands ring would ask him for his order, write it down diligently, then without fail inquire as to what “she will be having?” She meaning me.
I recalled dinners I’d had with my mother and Nonnetto, dinners my grandfather had scrimped and saved to treat us to, working endless hours on the docks. His labours had all too often been disparaged by an assuming young waiter, thinking the old man some doddering fool unable to speak his own mind.
“And what will he be having?” the waiter would ask of my mother.
The waiter’s eyes never dallied once to meet my Nonnetto’s, afraid to find a scrap of recognition left within that withering husk. The elderly, like women beyond their breeding years, as I am presumed to be, are things that have served their usefulness. They are offensive in their stubborn insistence to linger on among the living.
Induction As A Female
Then there was the reverse of this, an effusion of attention. Suddenly women, whom had never taken interest in me before, discovered a kind of solidarity in me. Why? I was one of them, one of the owned, a married “woman.” There was much squealing and hugging, all of which was quite overwhelming. Then again, I’ve never had many female friends, and was unaccustomed to such a reception.
While one woman can make for enchanting company, I find women in groups perplexing. It’s my fault of course; I’ve never understood the subtleties of female conversation. I’m blunt and unhindered by things like tact, which I see as counterproductive and false. Women are socialized to be more guarded. They are careful in how they deliver their ideas, crafting consensus around an opinion before they dare express it as their own (at least, that has been my observation.)
Some small-minded people have wrongly called this aspect of feminine discourse dishonesty or manipulation. It can take this form, yes, and yet I believe it is more driven by the knowledge that being frank and resolute is seen in women as crass and tawdry. At any rate, such behaviours are not in keeping with the feminine virtue society demands.
At first I was a novelty to these women. They greeted my maladroit conversation with broad smiles and forced laughter.
“Oh, you’re so funny!” They’d shriek.
Only I hadn’t made a joke.
Subjects such as pregnancy and giggling accounts of their bedroom activities left me in a state of bewilderment. As quickly as these women had ingratiated me, I became tiresome to them. Despite my earnest attempts to guise it, they realized I was unable to traverse the landscape of their minds. Rather than simply ignore me, my failure to meld was rewarded with sidelong glances and flurries of whispers when I dared to pass by.
An I for an I
When most newlyweds are dizzy with joy, I was sinking ever deeper into misery. I had been drawn farther into the human miasma than I had ever come before, and I was desperate to find my way back out. It was a thing I strived to keep secret from my husband. He was still the loving, devoted man I had fallen for, and I was still every bit as meaningful to him as I had been before our wedding.
Slowly, my dolour crept out from the hallows of my mind where I had hidden it away. I was consumed by a need to sleep almost constantly, agonized by the inevitable opening of my eyes. I simply couldn’t endure the life I had been relegated to. While I’ve always been fond of the drink, intoxication quickly engulfed my reality. I now felt a kind of kinship for that hermit I had befriended so many years ago. I finally understood what it was to have become so entangled in the snares of life that one would welcome the gentle peace of death.
I think by most human’s judgement, the correct choice would be to swallow my pride and trudge on. Man speaks highly of altruism and self-sacrifice. Failure to do so as pure selfishness, and so be it, but I am not as willing to surrender myself as humans preach that they are. I decided I had to speak to my husband, regardless of the outcome.
Fortunately, he wasn’t ignorant to my upset. He listened to my words, stalwartly, silently. I begged for him to find someone else, someone who could giggle girlishly and fawn over his every word. He needed a partner who could reaffirm that he was the man, the lord and master. I implored him to find someone who felt completed by marriage rather than concluded by it. Find a person who is either wholly a man or a woman, not some genderless thing lost in a pantomime. Find a human who knows the rules mankind is born knowing, who can understand the things I never will. Find someone passionate, and sensual, who can give you all the things that I can’t. Man lives but a short time, and you deserve as much out of your life.
He looked at me, not with rage or even sadness but rather contemplation. He shook his head, shrugged and in his halcyon way simple spoke the words “but I want you.”
The words were at once dreadful and beautiful to hear. There was no resolution offered, I would still live as a hostage in my own body, harangued by the liens of the masses . Such pretty words were so easy for him to muster, marriage for him hadn’t meant gleefully snuffing out his soul as it had for me. Yet here was the one person who had never asked me to. Rather than seeing me as a thing undeserving, he held me above all others. It was I who would have forsaken him to halt the tongues of rabble, singing out a chorus of ideas they had learned well, yet never understood.
I never took his name, he never asked me to. Such rites hold no meaning for us. I remain myself, not his better half, not his ball and chain but his collaborator, his accomplice, his friend. I don’t need to ask his permission, his voice is not mine nor mine his. There is no dominance, only parity, and a sustained equilibrium. I tell myself that, maybe one day I’ll believe it. The truth is that I hate being married, I imagine I always will, but I love my husband.
You’ll say I deserve to be alone, and I’ll agree wholeheartedly, but humans live such short lives, why make his anymore painful than it need be?