Relationships 5.1

by Kilian Melloy
Sunday Jul 11, 2004
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"Who’s the top in our marriage?" my husband asked me as we lay snuggled in the private universe of an almost-nap. "You?"

"That’s hardly a meaningful question," I argued -- tried to argue, but he had moved on to,

"I think it’s you."

"That’s certainly stereotypical! And not really applicable, for that matter," I fired back. "We’re both much more complex than that and so is our relationship."

True enough. When signing letters or greeting cards, my name comes first; when introducing ourselves in social contexts, we present a hyphenated version of our last names, his before mine. If by "top" he means, whose name appears first on our Corporate Logo, then it’s really a matter of context, isnít it? And stereotypes run screaming from context, being, as they are, a generalized attempt to one-size and unisex everything, all the better to stuff the world’s many components into prefabricated categories: slots and tabs, pistons and chambers. But the world isn’t made of neat geometrical shapes. You can break every image into triangles and every form of media into binary code, but the world itself is made of more sublime stuff -- vibrations that emit their harmonics into eleven dimensions, photons that partake equally of wave-aspects and particle-aspects, and through all of it lances the omnipresent black needles of uncertainty and random chance.

In the face of such cosmological complexity, he wants to know who’s the "top"?

Well, I do the cooking and he does the washing upÖ sometimes when I’m still in the process of preparing dinner. (There are times, I must report, when I have to chase him out of the kitchen with a whisk.) He scrubs the floor and I do the dusting. Is there a level of glamour that some household chores attain but not others? What does "top" mean there?

I invite people to dinner and he chastises aggravating neighbors and telemarketers. He gets me up in the morning; I coax him into bed at night. We take turns choosing video rentals (and blaming one another for the results). I pick out the furniture; he chooses the paint. Does the patriarchy confer superior status to one or the other of us for these reasons?

Those opposed to opening the chapel doors to allow same sex couples access to marriage spend half their time raising a roar over the tired fiction that they call "the homosexual lifestyle" (and the other half hyperventilating over some alleged "gay agenda"), which simply seems like another way of saying that in the matter of who’s who in any given relationship, they like their "tops" to be one gender and their "bottoms" to be the other. (It’s not hard, given the virtual heart attacks they suffer when women "git uppity" and start doing things like making equal (or better) pay, securing university professorships, or, Christ, even voting, to guess which gender should, in their cosmology, play which role.)

But our family dynamics do not translate so easily into the black-and-white Ward and June Cleaver world of those who promote faith-based discrimination. In fact, it’s hard to think of anyone whose family -does- fit those dynamics any longer. When was the last time you noted a smiling, apron-clad woman in earrings and perfect makeup spending her days bustling around the stove? Yes, it drives the fringe right crazy that the world no longer reflects these mildewed film clips of yore (except in certain Muslim countries, mind you), but asking gays and lesbians to adhere to those "traditional" roles will hardly bring them back. Those moribund gender stereotypes have failed the test of time; simpletons whose sole activity in life is to look back and cry for decades long past risk being devoured wholesale by the future.

So what are my husband and I, the most modern of the modern, two legally married men, doing talking about who between the two of us is the "top"? Are we not simply subscribing to a time-yellowed journal of simplistic intolerance by assuming, consciously or unconsciously, that one of us must be pre-eminent over the other? I mean: that’s not why I got married; I got married so I could participate as an equal within my home life as well as in life on the greater social scale. I don’t need to be above anyone else (no "special rights" for me, thanks, and no special exclusion from rights either), nor do I need to subjugate myself to someone -- anyone -- else out of a need not to face up to my individual responsibilities and shoulder my fair share of my family’s, or my country’s, burdens.

The word notwithstanding, stereotypes are so very monaural, so flat, so thin, so colorless. Straight white (and black) biblical literalists take one look at our marriage license and break out into ululations of panic and the cold sweat of nameless, formless fear (for there is nothing substantive to fear there, after all: just us fellas!). They fear we are trying to "redefine" marriage instead of simply partake in it; they fear we are going to alter (or maybe redecorate?) all of Society, big red capital S, from the foundation up. They shiver with anxiety that we are about to redesign human relationships, and the future shock of their feverish imaginings, the putative cataclysm before which they quiver, they view as some sort of Relationships 2.0. But we’re way beyond all of that. My dears, we’re relationship 5.1. Ours is not a relationship that expresses itself through stereotype, but rather through stereo sound: Digital Dolby, that’s us, home sweet home and home theater system in one exclusive package.

And what beautiful music we make, whatever our positions in this grand and private orchestra!

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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