“The first same sex weddings will be able to take place from Saturday 29 March 2014 (subject to the approval of Parliament). This follows the passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which received Royal Assent on 17 July 2013.” www.gov.uk
My grandmother said something once which has stuck with me throughout my life: ‘Hey kid, you’re adopted,’ she laughed as she swilled a pint of brown ale and lit another Senior Service. No, I jest. I don’t think I am. Although sometimes –
Actually, of course, she said many things, bossily and repeatedly, one of which was to take my flipping hands out of my flipping pockets whenever I walked. I never fully understood the reasons why this was such an affront to her – I loved to stroll, a-whistling, Huckleberry Finn-esque around our farm, a stalk of straw behind one ear, faithful dog at my heels and my hands tucked away jingling pocket money or caressing stolen matches. I don’t think it was my health and safety she was concerned about; gloomy scenarios about tripping and amputating my chin, unable to avoid disaster because my protecting hands were wedged comfortably deep into trouser pockets, were more the territory of my other grandmother. And grandmother no. 1 never showed any concern about my robust tomboy qualities; if anything, she nurtured them, for which I remain grateful to this day. Rather, I think it just wasn’t deemed good manners to walk with one’s hands in one’s pockets. It was not the done thing. It might even – gulp – have made me look a bit common. And manners mattered a lot to my grandmother. A hell of a lot.
But one afternoon I was helping her fiddle about with geraniums in her greenhouse and we were talking about I don’t know what. My grandmother stopped what she was doing, pointed her finger at me and made me look at the shape of her hand. She said: ‘If someone ever points their finger at you, remember there are three of their own fingers pointing back at them.’ I guess I was about seven or eight. It wasn’t an original piece of wisdom – I’ve since heard it many times from various enlightened types, but it had a profound effect on me.
Firstly, I think she knew that I was likely to face some troubled years as I grew and understood myself and began to have relationships. Secondly, she knew she couldn’t change who I am (only the manner in which I walked, and even that never really worked) and thirdly, I think that she knew that this world is populated by a vast army of brutal, violent, jaw-droppingly arrogant, judgmental, finger-pointing hypocrites whom, sadly, I was going to find it impossible to avoid.
There has been something of a war going on over the last few decades – or millennia, depending on your point of view, and it’s a war I have unwillingly become embroiled in. Recently it’s simply been about this: should or shouldn’t I be allowed to get married? Well, it’s all over the news and as from Saturday March 29th, 2014 at last, and rightly so, in England and Wales at least, I can.
In fact I don’t want to get married. I never have, and I doubt that I ever will. I hold little respect for marriage as an institution or as a state of being to aspire to. I deeply admire all the uncompromising, pioneering queers who have struggled – and are still struggling in the face of grotesque, often fatal, hostility to define their own relationships, to live and love exactly how and whom they choose.
And it’s laughable (once I stop being horrified) how many heterosexuals hold themselves up to be the pinnacle of all that’s right and proper in the manner of conducting a stable, loving relationship. Notwithstanding the prevalence of – oh, let’s pick a few randomly out a hat – forced marriages, of child brides, the trafficking and control of women, the fact that ‘obey’ is still in the marriage vows, that one man gives away a woman to another man (tradition, natch), the hilarious cherry-picking of holy texts spouted by the religious right to justify an agenda based on pure misogyny and homophobia, marriage for passports, the systematic rape, beatings and murder of women by their heterosexual husbands, the physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children within a heterosexual family, the fact that 42% of marriages end in divorce; notwithstanding all that, heterosexual marriage has, until now, been declared an exclusive club, invented by and for heterosexuals, the privileges (I use that word loosely) of which only heterosexuals are allowed to enjoy.
Of course I understand the romantic motivations for marriage, the true and sincere love that many, many people feel for each other, and the desire to have that union recognised publicly and legally. I do understand and I genuinely wish every couple willingly making this informed choice deep joy and fulfilment. I have three (straight) weddings coming up between now and Christmas, of people whom I love dearly, which I am hugely looking forward to and I shall shave my legs and buy new frocks and cry at all of them for sure.
But marriage is a human invention. It’s not some sort of divine missive sent by a Supernatural One to earthlings. It’s not a natural, biological condition we evolve towards like puberty or gingivitis. It’s something we humans have invented and for all its extraordinary power and supposed elevation of status, it’s really just an elaborate game of make believe, a promise made between two people wrapped up in the full weight of the law.
I am not at war with straight people, I really am not and never have been. I campaign for human rights, for equality, for all people, not just my kind. (Truth be told, I actually care far more about protecting wildlife and the environment than I do about people). But I’m not Peter Tatchell. If I’m not working then I want to be writing stories, playing music, taking photos, being with my beloved, just, you know, normal stuff. But it has seemed to me that on many, many occasions straight people, especially religious straight people, have taken it upon themselves to be at war with me. There they are, letting rip with the revolting gas of unprocessed, uncritical ideology, lacking even a soupçon of independent, creative, analytical thought based on experiences of the reality and diversity of human lives and loves. There they go, judging, judging, judging, creating monsters where there are none, perversely obsessing over the minutiae of other people’s sex lives, and pointing, pointing, pointing.
The first time I fell in love – properly, falling off a cliff in love, was a singularly lonely, horrible experience. There was, literally, no one to tell. The last time I fell in love – thirteen years ago (if we don’t count a rich fantasy life involving Clare Balding, kd lang, Rachel Maddow and a mud wrestling pit) it was very different. There was no tortured poetry, no agonised soul searching, no howling to the moon. It was – and is – restful, fun, loving and a real joy. How lucky I am to be here, in the UK today, to be in a devoted partnership and to be able to spend most of my time unconcerned about my physical safety, my employment prospects, my self-esteem, my health. This is absolutely not the case for gay people over the world, people who face not just pointed fingers but pointed guns, and it’s a fucking disgrace.
Yes, many heterosexuals have made great progress in terms of understanding what equality actually means in real life, and they accept the varieties in which human love and sexuality are felt and expressed. But whilst I am not going to get down on my knees and thank them, it would be churlish not to bump fists with those who genuinely find the judging and the finger pointing as bewildering and arrogant as I do, and who are simply on the side of fairness.
So no, marriage isn’t for me, but for same sex couples, it is now possible to use that word to describe our relationships for the first time in the history of England and Wales. About bloody time too. It’s an extraordinary step forward and sends the unequivocal message that yes, words matter, that yes, a relationship can be a marriage and not ‘just’ a civil partnership, if that’s what you want. That there doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be any difference because love is love is love.
I witnessed this first hand at the weekend when I went to Sandi and Debbie Toksvig’s renewal of their vows on the day when equal marriage became legal in England and Wales. Despite being 51 and having many wonderful friends in devoted relationships, I’ve never actually been to a same sex civil partnership (or never actually been invited. Oh. Right.) Anyway, I could not resist the email that came asking all and sundry to go along and celebrate with them.
I love Sandi, adore her in fact, and who wouldn’t? She’s quick, funny, enormously intelligent, eloquent, dapper and twinkles like a beautiful, sparkly twinkly thing.
On arriving at the sunny Royal Festival Hall I was immediately struck by the sheer number of people gathering there to celebrate this historic day. The atmosphere was almost reverential – the people I chatted to were all surprised and moved by just how surprising and moving it all was. It was a public gig of a very personal moment, but if ever the personal became political, then this was the time for it.
The ceremony itself? A flawless mixture of high camp, serious tradition, deeply affecting music and speeches and an almost tangible love radiating between Sandi, Debbie and their children. Sandi was given away by her elder daughter; her younger daughter carried the rings and her son conducted the exchange of vows: ‘Mum, I’d like you to repeat after me -’
Then at last came the declarations of love and the placing of the rings. There was simply not a dry eye in the house. And we danced and sang and whooped and yelled and the confetti came tumbling down and history was made.
I fairly floated home, dazed and amazed. Something hugely right had just happened, and it had cut straight into the hearts of everyone who witnessed it. (Ok, shallow me, Victoria Coren-Mitchell was there in that red dress and I was also temporarily overwhelmed by her billowing intelligence).
Who could deny these loving, devoted people their right to say ‘I do’, if they want to? Who would point their finger and say ‘No, you don’t, no you can’t, we won’t let you.’? Well of course, many people still hate what they perceive as difference and will go to a great deal of trouble to make life very painful for people like me and Sandi and Debbie. Eventually they will lose. It might take years and years, but eventually they will shrivel up and die and become a nasty but insignificant minority.
I wish my grandmother was able to see me today and see that I am fine, more than fine in fact; I wish I could potter about in a greenhouse with her and tell her that I have never forgotten her words, that they continue to reassure, shape and inform me. I wish she had been able to witness this powerful, astonishing day. She would have told Sandi to take her flipping hands out of her flipping pockets though.