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CHAT: gender/sex/marriage

From:Daniel J. O'Neil <oneild@...>
Date:Saturday, January 30, 1999, 20:52
I've been *extremely* reluctant to comment on the very interesting
discussion occurring in regards to the definition of marriage in NGL,
since I haven't been following the thread from the beginning and am
completely ignorant about this conlang. (Can anyone involved with the
project send me more information? Does this project have a web site?)
Nevertheless, certain statements have been made recently about the
nature of marriage, relationships, and gender that I feel warrant, at
least, some broader philosophical musings beyond the construction of a
language .

NOTE: These musings are not intended to call into question anyone's
personal or political commitments to sexual equality and the end of
discrimination based on sexual orientation. I'm not here to point

The comment that caught my attention was: "The  maleness and femaleness
of relationship is something I think pervades every human relationship
and I will stick with that." Gender is a highly constructed and
regulated institution in every culture, and anthropological research has
shown that gender is constructed in a breathtaking variety of ways
across human cultures,  such that it's impossible IMO to know at the
present moment which traits are essentially "male" or "female" beyond
basic biological functions.

I don't believe that nurturance is "female" and strength and dominance
is "male." I believe that we--at least those of us living in the United
States--are told in countless ways (some subtle, others blatant) from a
very early age what is and what isn't appropriate behavior for boys and
girls. Most parents would not think twice if their son told them he
wanted to grow up to be a lion, a dog, or a fish, but I can just imagine
their consternation if he told them he wanted to grow up to be a girl.
And who's the favorite target of school bullies? Boys who are gentle and
weak, in other words, boys who exhibit behavior considered feminine--to
use the parlance, "sissies." If that's not gender terrorism, I don't
what else is--and I'm only talking about childhood, here.

I hate living in a sexually polarized world. I think the social
construction--imposition--of gender acts as a straitjacket on a much
broader range of behaviors which are human, not male or female. I think
we would live in a much saner world if men and women knew how to be both
nurturing and strong.

But let me return to the original statement at issue.

One remark I hear countless times from same-sex couples is the relief of
not having to struggle with the sex role expectations that our culture
has established for heterosexual relationships. In my own relationships
with men, neither of us ever viewed our behavior within the relationship
as "male" or "female."

There's another reason why I resist this view of human relationships.
Yes, I recognize that defining a "marriage" as a union of "maleness" and
"femaleness" can include gay relationships (if we disregard the actual
sex of the partners), but it's still a heterosexual paradigm that
suggests to me that same-sex relationships are somehow less good, less
"authentic" than a "true" union of male and female, in other words, one
man and one woman.

Finally--I don't believe anyone has commented on this point yet--why
must marriage consist of a union of only *two* people? Why not three or
four? There are many cultures (including our own) where in certain
historical periods, polygyny was practiced and legally valid. Indeed, I
know a few people today living in (what they call) long-term polyamorous
Daniel J. O'Neil
M.S. Technical Communication
Instructor, Writing to the World Wide Web
Developer, Academy of Electronic Media
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute