The Clare Spark Blog

March 27, 2013

Power in gay and/or heterosexual attachments

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:02 pm
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Gay marriage opponent Leonard Gendron, a local pastor, holds a sign reading "Homosexuals are Possessed by Demons" outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston March 11, 2004 where the Massachusetts Legislature is debating an amendment to the state's constitution banning gay marriage.  On November 11, 2003 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state must issue marriage licenses to gay couples.       REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Gay marriage opponent Leonard Gendron, a local pastor, holds a sign reading “Homosexuals are Possessed by Demons” outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston March 11, 2004 where the Massachusetts Legislature is debating an amendment to the state’s constitution banning gay marriage. On November 11, 2003 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state must issue marriage licenses to gay couples. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The media are embroiled in the gay marriage debates as arguments are delivered in the Supreme Court this week, with persons opposed to gay marriage and those supporting it rallying in the nation’s capital. [This blog is not about the pros and cons of legalizing gay marriage, but about the bureaucratic categories that are imposed by the State and that we are expected to view as legitimate categories that exist, unproblematically, in the real world.]

So far, the media are guessing whether a national law will be passed legalizing gay marriage in all the states, or whether the matter will be returned to the states, and “democratically” worked out over time, with citizen input (as if some rational consensus will make itself obvious!). One concern is the effect on children of gay couples, a matter that is held by such as Justice Kennedy to be in an early experimental stage. He too expects a rational consensus, susceptible to statistical evaluation in the future.

This is a rich subject for me as a student of human behavior and social movements that are either radical or conservative in their objectives. As usual, I will complain bitterly about the bureaucratic approach to questions that are highly controverted and which are unique to individuals and to their specific relationships. And as usual I will complain about the black and white categories we assign to the parties in a conflict. In short, I will argue that “gender” assignments are either unstable or so variable that any laws grounded in clear boundaries between the genders betrays the variation not only in men and women, but in the institution that the laws purport to either protect or liberalize.

Here in outline form are just a few of my concerns and objections to the media coverage, including what I have seen posted on some conservative websites where “traditionalists” face off against “neocons.” (For instance, Roger Simon, a former New Leftist, brought up the subject of “marriage” as such yesterday, and was then challenged by indignant readers who reminded him of the sacred character of the institution, one which was not susceptible to modification in any way. This is a typical culture war confrontation.) My own objections follow, and will necessarily neglect religious considerations, as I am not qualified to discuss sectarian religious differences, and assume that in a pluralistic country, there is room for both secular and religious approaches to the subject of all institutions that engage us today.

  1. Too many persons jump into marriage while still wet behind the ears. Sadly, our biology lags behind emotional maturity. (See The mass media sell sexuality, princess weddings, and adorable babies to the detriment of a rounded intellectual and emotional development in adolescents. Young people are deprived of instruction in those values and skills that make for solid marriage (or non-marriage) and competent parenthood. Why? Because there is no consensus. Where is the borderline between what subjects are under the purview of parents and what may be taught in schools? The whole field of mental health is off limits because of the fragmented history of this country, divided as we are on the most intimate questions.

2. What is “masculine” and what is “feminine” are culture-specific. It is generally thought by adherents of democracy that the sharp differentiation between sex roles is typical of authoritarian or undeveloped societies, with much depending on technological advances. Since there is sharp ideological conflict in the US over what consists of “masculinity” and what consists of “femininity” there is no universal model of “marriage” or competent parenthood for that matter. As for “androgyny” that is more likely to be found in “artistic” types, and is perhaps more tolerated in bohemian circles than elsewhere.

3. There are power struggles in every relationship, whether these are between husband and wife, romantic lovers (straight or gay), parents and children, siblings, friendships, or political clubs. These struggles are not easily put in boxes, such as correct male conduct or correct female conduct, with a consensus over what is rightfully a male prerogative or a female prerogative. Couples in gay relationships may strive for equality, but be settling into stereotypical male or female roles. In heterosexual marriage, the husband may be femininely submissive in some situations, and dominant in others. Such matters are highly individualized and not susceptible to bureaucratic rules. Sadly the law is a meat-axe, not a scalpel.

Princess Grace 1956

Princess Grace 1956

4. Finally, keep in mind that adolescence is a moment in human development that is closely watched by order-loving elders whatever their political orientations, for teens are likely to be reactive to parental rules and examples, and may drift off into attachments that are anathema to parents. It is no wonder that romantic comedies, like formulaic fairy tales before them, end in a glorious marriage ceremony. What are excluded are the fading of sexual passion, the diversion of libido toward infants in many women, or the multiple other disillusionments as reality impinges upon fantasy. And I have not even mentioned adjusting to in-laws, who have their own mishegas. Two people may embark upon marriage, but it is a much larger group of people who find themselves engaged with a not-so-private relationship. And upon this subject, the law, like ideology, fails us. We are on our own, and only in retrospect should we survive into older age, may we wonder or cringe at earlier choices and conduct.

The better novelists, playwrights, and artists,  are not so naïve as our legislators, Supreme Court justices, pollsters, or other authorities on the misnamed “body politic.”

androgynous girl


  1. […] Second, on gay marriage: No other issue, other than abortion, has aroused so many negative emotions in persons of “faith.” I have known gay men and lesbians ever since the 1970s, and have never seen a gay relationship that was free of similar power struggles common to heterosexual relationships. ( […]

    Pingback by Why is gay marriage a hot button issue for religious conservatives? | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — September 12, 2015 @ 7:09 pm | Reply

  2. On re-reading your blog and additional commentary, you’ve clarified that the blog is about the fluidity of gender roles and the impossibility of a “one-size fits all” legal/bureaucratic system. I’ve always seen the rules as minimums above which a free people can be creative.

    The he-man worker and the kitten homemaker are just one possibility, and in looking more closely at 50 years of acquaintance in my own small town, it seems rare to find a heterosexual couple that followed the “essentialist” gender role stereotype. I can recall the marriages of my parents and grandparents generations, many of which on closer inspection did not rigorously conform to rigid gender roles. I know in my own marriage of 35 years, we are fairly fluid about expectations and roles, considering personal idiosyncratic preferences as much more important than social expectation.

    We agree that “gender” is unstable, and that it is part nature, part nurture, and part intention. Must the bureaucracy accommodate every intention? Pointing out that the law and bureaucracy do not serve implies that changes should be made. Wondering what changes would be both effective, efficient, most productive, and least restrictive.

    Comment by Terbreugghen — June 28, 2015 @ 5:37 pm | Reply

    • I am not a fan of bureaucracies and do not look to them to direct my personal life. As long as the irrational side of our species is unacknowledged, I see no hope for stable relationships. Most people idealize or demonize relationships and each other.

      Comment by clarelspark — June 28, 2015 @ 5:42 pm | Reply

  3. […] practical matters involving power between partners in either gay or heterosexual attachments (see , let alone what constitutes an ideal environment for raising children, or other relevant concerns […]

    Pingback by Androgyny | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — January 23, 2014 @ 7:02 pm | Reply

  4. So then how do we accommodate the continuum, all of whom want accommodation on the basis of their [not so] unique “gender” identity? (Not a fan of rolling over and opening up the national treasury every time someone runs into a cultural obstacle.)

    Comment by Terbreugghen — May 5, 2013 @ 10:02 pm | Reply

    • “We” do not have to “accommodate the continuum” as you put it. My blog wasn’t about giving in to the financial or other demands of this or that group, but about reconfiguring the problem entirely. My daughter observed today that I think “outside of the box.” That is the one and only reward of growing older.

      Comment by clarespark — May 5, 2013 @ 10:07 pm | Reply

  5. I’ve long disliked and disagreed with the popular commandeering of the term “gender” as a proxy for the [perceptual] sex of an individual. Instead I prefer “sex” to indicate biological sex, “sexual identity” to indicate self-perceived sex role, and “sexual orientation” to describe the direction of an individual’s sexual desires. “Gender,” as I understood it, applied only to words.

    Agreed that the law is an axe, not a scalpel. I believe that most popular objections to the law come out of the fact that a scalpel is desired, but only an axe is available. I think much of our current dissatisfaction is the fruit of a spoiled culture prone to tantrums when unrealistic demands are not immediately met.

    While I don’t mind the endless sifting of nuance in terms, I also recognize the necessity of determining a “this, not that” outcome ending in ACTION which “partakes of good” to a greater or lesser degree. We either do, or do not do, a thing, our minute reservations aside.

    Matthew 5:37 seems to apply here to me.

    I know this is not a religious subject, and I agree that a religious treatment, and an overtly christian one at that might be unwelcome, but I’ve always regarded this sentiment as transcending any religious view, and just a good guide to integrity in general. I’ve always regarded it as fruit of an Hellenized outlook.

    Comment by Terbreugghen — May 5, 2013 @ 9:24 pm | Reply

    • There are gender characteristics that are inherited, and there are those that conform to a particular society’s dominant culture. My blog was about the fluidity of the “gender” category, and how rigid ones can block valuable parts of our personalities. It was not about religion at all. As for the Greeks, they treated women as slaves and were enamored of maleness, with consequences that did not protect children.

      Comment by clarespark — May 5, 2013 @ 9:40 pm | Reply

  6. Reblogged this on YDS: The Clare Spark Blog and commented:

    Good feedback on this blog, so am reposting. It is one of my most original and discombulating efforts.

    Comment by clarespark — May 5, 2013 @ 1:13 am | Reply

  7. A lot to digest there, as usual, Clare. One point, in an early paragraph you set up the antipodes “radical or conservative” in the context of social movements. I submit that they can be both or neither, one or the other. As a language maven, I’m sure you’d appreciate that.

    Comment by medicalsoundproofingsolutions — May 4, 2013 @ 5:53 pm | Reply

    • Defining contemporary or historical social movements was not the focus of this particular blog, but I take your point. Thanks.

      Comment by clarespark — May 4, 2013 @ 6:54 pm | Reply

  8. It seems to me that equal benefits for gay couples is a civil rights issue. The state should not distinguish between straight and gay couples for the purpose of such issues as survivor benefits and taxation. But, calling gay unions a marriage violates the principle of separation church and state. The term “marriage” signifies sanctification by a religious order. If any couple, gay or straight, wish to declare their union a marriage, it must find a religion that so sanctifies their union.

    Comment by Bob Ennis — March 28, 2013 @ 2:32 pm | Reply

    • You mean that the state should cease to call “marriage” the civil ceremony it performs – for straight and gay couples alike?

      Comment by Joel Naber — April 1, 2013 @ 9:48 pm | Reply

      • My blog did not address the legality of gay marriage, but rather how narrowly bureaucrats deal with explosive questions such as the stability of gender identity, or the boundary between what is male and what is female conduct and mentality. I am always interrogating language and why we think we know things that are murky.

        Comment by clarespark — April 1, 2013 @ 9:54 pm

  9. Today gay marriage: tomorrow polygamy. It follows. John Gretchko

    Comment by John Gretchko — March 28, 2013 @ 2:29 pm | Reply

    • Both Bob Ennis’s and John Gretchko’s comments have expressed opinions on gay marriage. But what the blog is about is the instability of the gender category. Still, I approved the comments because they point to a lack of clarity in the blog itself. So I added a sentence that will explain what the blog is NOT about, namely the law regarding gay marriage itself. There is more to “gender” than our genitalia and hormones.

      Comment by clarespark — March 28, 2013 @ 2:51 pm | Reply

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