Friday, March 14, 2008

Erwartung: when that intercom buzzes, and a guest is coming to dinner

I remember, when living in a renovated apartment building in lower Manhattan in the mid and late 1970s, that we had an internal intercom system. Later, in another highrise in Minneapolis, it was phone operated. But I can remember the “excitement” of expecting a “date” back in the 70s. When the intercom buzzed, you had about 45 seconds left before “he” would appear.

I remember, with some nostalgia, how it was then: the “take homes”, the dates, the brunches, the Fire Island weekend trips (or even Mt. Washington, New Hampshire). Infatuation, “falling in love,” seeing the world through the eyes of some sort of relationship with the person. Yes, it gets into the talk groups (and chats today). But it was for me, and for him. It was surplus. It wasn’t for “society.” Nobody cared if society “recognized” the “relationship” or would regard it as “marriage.” We just wanted to be left alone to “lead our lives.”

For heterosexual couples it seems like it started out very much the same. When couples fall in love (even if its Belle and Shawn on DOOL) it’s about them, first.

But, with conventional heterosexual dating, you look down the turnpike, and through all the can’t-see-through mountain tunnels. You get married and have kids (hopefully in that order). You have to think about more than yourselves: you think about your progeny, but you probably have a lot of pressure to think about other blood family members, especially parents, as they age, or sometimes siblings if they have illnesses. You come to see the social supports for you marriage as vital. It’s part of what you experience as you both age (and bad things can really happen – “in sickness and in health”, etc.), so that you will stay not only “faithful” but also “interested.”

The problem is that, while you do, as an “old married couple” accept the responsibilities of your marriage, you also create potential “liabilities” or responsibilities for others, particularly in the blood family. In time, you need to know that you can count on support, both from your blood family and from the legal and social system.

But it didn’t start out that way. Originally, it was “this is my life” and “this is my lover’s life.” Soon the two became one, sort of, and then the “lives of others” could be affected. You grew into this because of the way society handles marriage. Because the obligations expand and affect others, as I’ve noted, society tries to regulate and limit intercourse, or at least procreation, to marriage.

For a couple decades, gay men, particularly, lived in their separate dominion, even battling down AIDS. In the 1990s it all changed, as issues like gays in the military and gay marriage came to the public debate, and as the Internet quickly “democratized” the debate. One fact is that childless adults can be affected by the needs of family members – created (and met) indirectly by conventional families having children. Another is that childless adults often do function as parents, a fact more visible now with the gay adoption debate in some states.

There is plenty of practical reason that gay couples would want legal recognition, and from our expanding appreciation of the need for “social connectedness” it sounds like a win-win proposition. But, some traditional couples in “conservative” cultures have developed the notion that they need to reserve the perks of “marriage” for themselves as part of their “Song of Solomon” experience.

There is a more subtle problem, however. As I noted, gay relationships start out as an experience, hopefully “psychologically creative,” for the participants. However, the outside work looks askance and attaches a derogatory meaning to the idea of “submission” or upward affiliation. The “outside” sees in that process an expression of judgment about other men, which the individual person (as a male homosexual) escapes himself through the affiliation but which applies to others, relating to their ability to have families. Unchecked, they feel, that can (in the world of “logical consequences”) set a dangerous trend for society as a whole, undermining democracy and inviting authoritarian systems based on “rank and yank” ideas. Radical individualism, paradoxically, can turn on itself. History has shown this before, they say.

But nobody is conscious of these things when the intercom buzzes.

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