by Anne Moore
We’re deep in the moving process, so I didn’t get the chance to read any of Our Man Marcel today, but I did last night, and one moment stuck out most to me. It’s his description of the pain that comes from the fleeting nature of pleasure: when his mother comes to kiss him goodnight, he remembers that it was “for me a moment of the utmost pain; for it heralded the moment which was to follow it, when she would have left me and gone downstairs again.” I think I’ve spent most of my life in that moment of pain.
The other thing I can’t let the day go by without mentioning is gay marriage passing in Minnesota. I was sitting in the car waiting for Ariel to pick up our take-out dinner when I stumbled upon my younger sister’s live-tweeting of the testimonies from the Senate floor, an hour after the vote. And even though I’d lived in Vermont when civil unions were passed there (and, as a Radical Twentysomething, had been excited but also felt like only assimilationist losers would want to get married), and then moved to MA a year after marriage equality happened here, and am myself gay-married (or “garried”), my response this time was more intense–even than at my own marriage. I choked up a little while reading my Facebook feed, but when Ariel got into the car, I completely broke down. Thinking about my home state, and more importantly, my suburban box-store, anti-choice-billboard-lined hometown suddenly officially becoming a place where a family might mean lots of different things, made me feel like there had been some kind of quantum shift in the air. Like how a sci-fi TV show signifies a move to an alternate universe with a different color filter on the lens.
As I mentioned, we’re moving right now–to the town next door, just to the other side of the line where greater Boston shifts from city to suburb. So it’s a quiet, tree-lined street, and there are little kids Izzy’s age on either side of our house. The thing that got me, though, is how many lesbians there seem to be in Arlington, particularly how many young lesbian families. Combined with the vote in Minnesota–an idea that would have been literally unthinkable to me as a queer teenager–the world feels walleyed and full of strange potential. Is it possible that another definition of “the new normal” is that the world is changing? That there might be a way to extend legal privilege that doesn’t lead the people who get it to forget the ones who don’t want it? That a national, public commitment to celebrating families different from the one you have/were raised in might help people to meet the Other with love, joy, and a commitment to curiosity and surprise?
This seems impossibly optimistic. And I fear that optimism can disable social change–that people will revel in the feeling that we have Arrived and will stop agitating for change. Or worse, that people with privilege will just lay back and enjoy that privilege and lose sight of others who are still screwed. But maybe a better way to think about it is how I think my mother must feel about my and my sister’s relationship to femininity. My mother, born in Dallas in 1948, always limited her ambitions, and remains unable to think about her value in the world as independent from her ability to attract a man. She’s done amazing things–supported her family on her own, built a career as an artist–but her sense of herself is that she’s by definition ancillary. Kate and I have never had this problem–not exactly. It should go without saying that I think postfeminism is a fucking ridiculous concept (like the bumper sticker says, I’ll be postfeminist in the postpatriarchy), but feminism was in the air my whole life. While it has pretty much always been clear to me how women get the short end of the stick (as it were), I never believed that this was just our fate in the way my mother did.
My hope is that this more recent change-of-filter, this Alternate Universe, might inspire a similar kind of historical shift. I know that, like our Narrator’s joy at his mother’s kiss, this feeling can’t last, and the thought that I’ll return to my rote relationship to my surroundings is sad. But for today, I’m full of wonder, and wanting to reach backwards in time towards my self-hating femme teenager in the hopes that I might help her imagine something new.