My birthday always coincides with Pride Week. I came to realize this in my late teens and early 20’s when I started to venture beyond my neighborhood into the melange of San Francisco, such a buffet. A buffet of buffets. I always knew there was a lot of “gay” people in SF. “Don’t they just walk around in the streets holding hands out there?!” Uh no. I look agreeable, but I don’t relent. I’m used to cultural tourism. I am Exhibit A whenever I’m on Grant street. I grew up in the Outer Richmond, so it might as well have been butt fuck no where in SF terms (Now it’s another story. Thanks, Google! I digress.) Growing up in the Outer Richmond was like being one micro-climate level away from the Farallon Islands. I could see the Great Whites circling the 38 bus stop on La Playa. So going to the Castro or Noe Valley was a hajj. I may have grown up in a gay city, but I also grew up in a Chinese city. If you’re gay and Chinese, the cake just gets more layered.
This year, I meet up with Samuel, an old friend from SF, for the Pride parade down in the village two days after the Supreme Court decision to ban all bans on gay marriage. He’s an ethnic studies professor at a New York City area university and his contract was renewed for another year, and so like me, by virtue of economics, he’s become a reluctant New Yorker.
In this intersection, we both can lament about and dissect the differences we perceive between California and New York: People here can throw down here but then they can be cool in a split second. Italian Ice! Californians are just..nicer.“ There’s much less alliance building in New York City between groups, between activists.
Over the last 10 years, Samuel and I have touched based a handful of times. We get together when geographically possible and to me, it always feel like we came out of an interstellar wormhole–a very cozy one. Our visits always time out well. (Although anything that times out well with my kids’ naps is a clear success for me these days.) I count my blessings when I find that moment for myself; so when these moments intersect with a huge street celebration for a historical victory, a shared public display of affection and when my old friend is still in town, I might as well call it what it is: hitting the jackpot.
I also meet Samuel’s partner, Arnoldo, who is all smiles and namely Spanish-speaking. Samuel translates for me, invites me to a boat dance (and buffet!!!) that Arnaldo works on but I pass, another occupational hazard of motherhood. So we pass the time critiquing the pretty lackluster corporatized floats, take a few pictures of some elaborately dressed queens and we catch up.
Local organizations parade through, some of them look thrown together like an after-school chess club; as opposed to the corporate floats which look like tissue boxes on steroids and the bass music bumping with their heavily compensated DJ’s. The composition of the floats and the groups are divided very distinctly by racial spaces. There a float blasting dad rock and I knew that was the white guy float and lo and behold. a ton of bears whooped and screamed by us. You may also be wondering why the hell would we pass the time this way at Pride, both of us normcore like crazy in our Bay Area gallantry?
Short answer: There really is no other way Samuel and I would pass the time. We met and worked together in a back alleyway nonprofit in Chinatown, San Francisco. That is where I introduced Samuel to vegetarian chow fun and to his disgust, shrimp chips.
So it was appropriately serendipitous, that at the corner of Christopher and Greenwich, perched atop a gutter grate, Samuel drops a bomb on me in the most offhanded way, “Oh by the way, I got married on Friday.” He tops it off by flashing his shiny and new platinum wedding band with Arnoldo topping it off by flashing his matching one to me with his dazzling smile. I join in, too, (so straight of me) but alas, only in jest because my marriage band has mysteriously disappeared as breastfeeding Son #2 sucked all the fluids out of on body, including the flesh around my ring finger.
For a moment I think Samuel is joking, but then I let it sink in because this is also sooo Samuel. I think he senses my shock which I’m casually trying to mask. He tells me there’s a long story to it, political and personal, and I think back the joke I made earlier about gay people getting married to help folks with their green cards (very intersectional, indeed) but I can barely get to that because my friend just told he got married!
Shouldn’t we be drinking to this?! Shouldn’t we be going shopping at Bed Bath and Beyond or something?! What am I doing at standing atop a gutter, surrounded by straight teenage girls waving rainbow flags!? My friend, one of my most noncommittal, most intellectual, sound of mind, vegetarian and shrimp chip hating friends just got married at the same place I did, (141 Worth Street – the City of New York Clerk’s Office — Yeahhh baby!!!).
Is this Facebook status worthy or what?
I mean, really, shouldn’t there be more celebration, more hoopla?! My goodness! I am at Pride with my queer Latino friend, standing at a corner in the village comparing how our wedding bands came to be. Everyone is screaming #lovewins, dammit! We have never been more part of the “trending” zeitgeist as we were at that moment.
Just as the hugging is getting intense, Arnoldo has to head to work.
And so Samuel and I continue catching up. I learn about his courtship with Arnoldo, short and intense and tenuous. Arnoldo, an Ecuadorian national has been subject to the usual waltz of Visa extensions. You come and go, extend the visa, come and go, extend the visa, get questioned by immigration for an extended period of time, understand you’re not really wanted in the country, finally get released by immigration and continue to come and go and the cycle continues legally but not without duress and bated breath. Suffice it to say, the cumulative effects of this waltz make for toilsome and demoralizing trips.
He continues, sharing that if he could have his way, he would have waited, waited maybe more 10 years — not 10 months to get hitched. This felt right, but rushed, but necessary even if marriage, in theory, upsets his own critiques of hetero-patriarchal norms. He also only agreed to this marriage if Arnoldo took the lead in securing the logistics, including whatever legal help they would need.
I kinda stop listening to Samuel as he rationalizes why he got married. His words drop into place like Lego pieces. I need no navigating his rationale. He makes perfect sense to me; the most sense one can make for this whole argument supporting gay marriage.
Marriage should be rational. Marriage, to me, as it is for Samuel, has not entirely been about #lovewins — ever! In fact, dare we venture to say that marriage has less to do with love than we like to admit?
Marriage, my friends, is about having access.
I nod, smile and take him into my space. My partner and I, when unmarried, had moved in together for one main reason: rent. I tell him I understand why he wants to keep his apartment, despite having gotten married. I tell him why I got married. I was 5 months pregnant and didn’t want to upset my Chinese parents. I flew them out to New York City on a red-eye, got our vows read to us by 1pm and went to Little Italy for an early dinner. The next day, I told them that they were going to be grandparents again. I told them at a zoo, in front of the black bear exhibit.
My parents never blinked an eye. They said it was normal, getting pregnant, and that a long road lies ahead of me. I still don’t know if they were referring to having kids or being married, but it sounded ominous.
Marriage is also about accessing these types of spaces–traditional spaces–reserved for the hegemonic elite, the casually dominant players who can just “be” without ever having to explain anything.
Because marriage is also a veil. I use my married status as a veil to access my professional spaces. Having an unplanned pregnancy did that to me. I teach in a small high school in East Harlem. Many students have passed through my classroom a few months pregnant and a few months shy of graduation or being promoted to the next grade level. I never wanted to explain myself, let alone buy a wedding band online (express shipping, free engravings and courtesy polishing for life). It was the right thing to do for me at the time. I also navigate a hetero-patriarchal world more smoothly as a straight woman. I would be assumed to already be married, especially as an Asian American. Therein lies the intersections at the heart of my decision to marry when I found myself unexpectedly pregnant with Son #1.
Although I’ve since lost my wedding band and maybe even some of my hardline scruples about marriage, feminism because life… I can live with myself knowing I chose a more predictable, and accessible means to navigate a world beyond post-colonial theory and critique. I’m still not convinced I married for love; although, I do love the father to my kids, my partner and my husband–now! Do I love him the same way I did prior to having kids? Short Answer: No, I love him more these days.
I’m not here to rain on anyone’s all-access marriage parade, either.
There’s no doubt that marriage is romantic and for the romantic, but the freedom to marry, the ability to voluntarily bind oneself legally, financially and contractually to another person, is also about getting shit done.
Love wins but so does sharing health care benefits or becoming a citizen in this country. In Obergefell’s case, love wins but so does being recognized, universally, as next of kin when your spouse passes. Marriage is a civil right: not much romantic about that.
I think focusing on love “winning” to make gay marriage palatable to straight people, though strategically effective, detracts from the real horrors of being denied the right to have access to all things “married.” Hence, my privilege of conveniently marrying without much forethought to the procedures of marriage, let alone the economic benefits of marriage, is not lost on me.
I know Samuel’s rationalizations were more for himself as he reiterated that this marriage was also good for him. Every relationship takes work. Every relationship is a labor of love. What is more laborious than marriage?! He could be political and critical about the purpose of marriage, but as corny as it is, his decision to marry is quite simple: love, despite all risks.
As the parade winds down, someone in the crowd starts shouting “What is marriage?!”
Everyone around us cacophonously responds with “Love!” of course.
And I shout,”Rent!’
It’s the first weekend of summer on the eve of my birthday. Both Samuel and I have grand plans of binge-watching Scandal and Empire and have trips to California to hang out with family on our horizons. Life really could be worse.
We see two Latino guys, serving up Italian ice, not batting an eye to the festivities around them because this is just another work day. We order some ices. Samuel’s never had it.
Here I am with an old friend who got married on the same day the Supremes ruled 5 to 4 that states must recognize all marriages, regardless of where the licenses were initially issued.
We get close to take a selfie, and Samuel, with his much longer arm, makes sure to get the Italian ice guys in our backdrop.
This really becomes the perfect moment to celebrate