SARAH MIRK: This is Popaganda, the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I’m Sarah Mirk.
Do you feel like the values that you try to imbue your family with have changed at all since Trump was elected?
MARGARET JACOBSEN: I don’t know if they’ve changed as much as I feel like perhaps I’ve just seen the importance of us continuing to build our family and creating, especially in our home, just a safe space to exist as a non-monogamous, queer family.
SARAH: That’s Margaret Jacobsen, a writer, photographer, and member of an extraordinarily beautiful family [chuckles]. This spring at Bitch, we’re exploring the theme of “family values.” That’s a term that has been co-opted by right-wing folks in the United States. In our media and in our politics, claims of “family values,” are used to defend everything from repealing abortion access to transphobic bathroom bills to policing women’s sexuality.
You know, people use family values in a really narrow way. It means like this kind of retro shit.
[recorded clip with dramatic music, 1950s-era sound]
NARRATOR: This boy and girl coming home from school look quite content with life. And why not? They’re looking forward to an important date: Dinner at home with the family. Mother, too, changes from her daytime clothes. The women of this family seem to feel that they owe it to the men of the family to look relaxed, rested, and attractive at dinnertime.
SARAH: Politicians use the framing of “family values” as essentially the political equivalent of this mom from The Simpsons.
WOMAN: [high-pitched, bubbly, wavering, yelping voice] Oh! Won’t somebody please think of the children?!?!
SARAH: But what the hell [laughs]! Feminists have strong values, and we have strong families, too. Why do Republicans get a monopoly on defining what family values means?
On today’s episode, we’re queering family values. For a lot of queer folks, the traditional concept of family is wrought with complicated feelings. A lot of blood families refuse to accept or celebrate queerness. So LGBTQ people have in many ways redefined “family” for themselves.
On this episode, I talk with two queer feminist activists about what the word “family” means to them and what “family values” they try to live by and teach. Margaret Jacobsen and Yasmin Nair are two amazing feminist writers and thinkers who have different ideas on what it means to have a family, what it means to get married, and how our ideas of family shape our ideas of the world. Listen in.
[song from Steven Universe, voice with piano accompaniment, lyrics below]
♪ Why don’t you talk to each other?
Why don’t you talk to each other?
Just give it a try.
Why don’t you talk about what happened?
I know you’re trying to avoid it,
But I don’t know why.
You might not believe it.
You might not believe it,
But you’ve got a lot in common.
You really do.
You both love me, and I love both of you. ♪
SARAH: Just kickin’ it off with a little relationship advice from Steven Universe [laughs].
All right, Margaret Jacobsen.
MARGARET: Hi, I’m Margaret Jacobsen. I’m a photographer and writer that lives in Portland.
SARAH: That’s like…selling it short a bit. Margaret is an awesome activist who organizes lots of events centering on race, gender, and identity, including a regular self-care day for Black women—Margaret is black—and the Women’s March in Portland in January. Proudly non-monogamous and also non-binary, Margaret’s social media feed feel like a vision into a better, more gorgeous world filled with kids and friends and loving partners who make time for each other and also make lots of good food together.
I asked Margaret about being non-binary and using the pronoun “they.”
MARGARET: I identify as non-binary, just meaning I don’t really see myself on the gender binary. And gender for me, I think I used to identify as genderqueer or gender fluid, but since gender isn’t something I personally believe in, then non-binary fits my identity a lot better.
SARAH: So to start it off, I asked Margaret, “Who’s in your family?”
MARGARET: So I guess I would start with my ex-husband. We live seven minutes from each other. We do a lot of stuff together. We’re just no longer married. And then I am engaged to my partner, Noah, and we live together. And then there is my partner that lives outside of the house, Pace. Yeah, so I would say there’s–how many is that?–like six of us [chuckles].
SARAH: That’s six including Margaret’s two kids, Riley and Beck, who are seven and eight and also extremely adorable.
So Margaret has a strong family and also really strong values. But still, the phrase “family values” instantly induces some cringing.
MARGARET: I think I’m one of those people that also gets [laughing] really anxious when people say that! And a lot of that is because of how I grew up, which was very religious, very Christian, and family values were definitely: Like a mom and a dad that were married with kids [chuckles], and it’s just wholesome. Whatever wholesome means. Boring, I guess.
SARAH: [laughs] Is that what wholesome means?
MARGARET: I don’t know!!! ‘Cause I feel like I just don’t know what people mean when they’re saying that something is wholesome. I don’t get it. I don’t get what’s not wholesome. But I think for me and for my partners, our family values are really centered around compassion and kindness and kind of trying to have an infinite amount of love and capacity. We have an open-door policy in our home, and we’re always trying to host people and have dinners and just having the house always be full of people that are kind of our chosen family.
Growing up, I think that my parents tried really hard to have family time and family trips, and I felt like they were trying really hard to fit into an idea of what family is and doing it in a traditional way. And traditional, I guess, simply meaning what society perceives as the normal; it’s what the majority is. And I think as a kid all I really wanted was to be surrounded by a lot of people and to just share space and food and time with people who I knew loved me and that I loved. And my daughter has always been kind of inviting everybody into her life. If she meets you, and she likes you, she’s like, “Great. You’re welcome here,” you know? And we all try to have that mentality. So I think that that’s what our family values are rooted in, is always having open arms. No one gets turned away, and there’s no expectations to show up perfectly. It’s like show up as you are, and that’s enough. That’s all we want.
SARAH: How do you feel like your family is similar to the family you grew up in, and how is it different? Is there anything you’ve taken from your parents in a good way or anything you’ve intentionally very much left behind?
MARGARET: I think that the cooking is something that I took because it was a thing that we would do with my mom. It felt like a really sacred time, and I know for her, she would tell us stories about cooking with her own father. And we do that around here a lot. There’s a lot of cooking, and not just in my house, but in my ex-husband’s house.
SARAH: You all cook dinner together, or what does it look like?
MARGARET: Sometimes we cook dinner together. Sometimes he’ll make food and bring it over here. Or we’ll just make food, and he’ll come over. Same with my partner, Pace. We try really hard to do a family dinner where everyone’s there, where it’s all the partners [chuckles], including my ex-husband and his partner and then the kids. And my parents were really good about having meals together every night, and we have to work really hard to do that just because I’m really busy. And I don’t see the importance of family meals, but my kids really, really love them. I will sometimes be like, “We can do it next week or something. I’m writing and studying whatever.” And they get really excited about it. It reminds me of like I was always really excited as a kid too, to just sit down with my family and us all be together. Because during the day, we weren’t’ always together. We were all over the place. But other than that, I don’t know.
My parents really prided themselves on taking us to church together, and they didn’t like to play board games, and maybe we would watch movies together. So I think with my kids, I try to make everything a family thing. Like we all go outside and play together. We play a lot of board games, and we play Magic, and we watch a lot of TV together. And we cuddle every weekend morning. It used to be every morning, but not so much now that they’re in school. So it’s just doing lots of little things and doing it together and making it they get really excited. And they ask for it all the time, where it’s like, “Can we do this as a family? Can we do this?” It’s like, I’m going to the grocery store, like, “Can we go as a family?” So yeah. I think that’s what I do a little bit differently than my family did.
SARAH: How did your family get to be so adorable [laughs]?
MARGARET: Oh [laughs]!
SARAH: That’s a real question. I think a lot of people have very tense relationships with their partners, and especially with their ex-partners, and with their kids. In so many families there’s so much tension all around. Hearing you talk about your family just sounds like in some ways, it’s a bundle of love. I’m sure you have problems, too.
SARAH: How do you manage conflict, and how does it wind up being so sweet?
MARGARET: I think that I would say therapy [laughs]! We do a lot of therapy. I’m just a really big supporter of therapy. Quickly, I was adopted when I was a baby, and I’ve kind of just always been a very empathetic, sensitive person, and I’ve always wanted just a family of my own. My kids are like my first-blood relatives, which is crazy and blows my mind. And then my ex-husband was my first serious partner and is my best friend. So when we were talking about separating, it was a really long conversation about how do we preserve what we have, because it’s special? It’s not a thing that we’re just gonna throw away because we shouldn’t be together anymore. It’s something that definitely should continue. We did couple’s therapy, which was great. It helped us learn how to communicate better. And then we’ve just implicated all of those things that we learned there. Now we do family therapy with our kids, and that’s really awesome. We make sure that the four of us spend time together too.
SARAH: You mean your kids and your ex-partner?
MARGARET: Yeah. So the kids and my ex-husband. But then also it was very natural for us when I started to be with my partner. The kids are very, they’re just really excited to have more adults love them. So that’s been really–I don’t know–it’s just be really nice. We’re all really good communicators, and we all really work hard on our communicating. And that was something I didn’t know how to do as a kid. I didn’t know how to advocate for myself or speak up for myself, and my kids do a really wonderful job of being like, “I don’t feel like this is for me,” or, “I wanna do something different,” or, “This would make me feel better.” So we encourage a lot of that. So I would say that that helps us [chuckles] because we can be really honest about our expectations. I would also say that non-monogamy has helped us [chuckles] with our communication and appreciating each other and trusting each other because you do have to work with so many people. So it makes sense that those skills and tools would also apply to when you have children and ex-partners. It’s not just limited to partners that you’re romantic with.
Yeah, we have a lot of love and a lot of gratitude. I would say that my daughter especially is really good about bringing people together and loving people and appreciating them. When you’re around her, you’re like, “Oh my gosh! I wanna be just like you when I grow up!”
SARAH: So in this similar way to how non-monogamy has shaped your family dynamics, how do you feel like queerness has shaped your family? Do you ever think about how your family would be different if you were binary and straight?
MARGARET: I mean, I lived like that for a really long time. I mean, I think I always was like, “I’m queer,” but we didn’t talk about it. Then they saw me just being married to their dad. And so I think that we were already very much like, “You can be whoever you wanna be, and we’re good with it.” But they definitely saw a very hetero example. Then now, I think I like the way that my kids view people and being attracted to people and when they talk about it. It is so like, what they’re attracted to, who they really enjoy is so diverse. The other day, my son was like, “I don’t think I’m gay,” [laughs] but kind of sad. But also still being able to be like, “But this man is really cute, and this person’s handsome,” and not feeling shame or anything around it or embarrassed. A lot of our friends are non-binary. So that’s been really fun to have those conversations with my daughter where she’s like, “OK. I don’t have to just be a girl forever. I can be so many other things.” I’m like, “Yeah! Yeah!” I don’t know if we would’ve had those conversations necessarily; I can’t tell. But I do think that I’m psyched that they’re growing up in a house with a queer parent.
Kids have this way of looking at things where you explain it to them, they think about it, and then they’re like, “Great” [chuckles]. “Now can we go do this thing?” They might have more questions, but they’re not questions in the way where they’re like, “That’s wrong, and this is the right way.” It’s more questions like, “Oh, how did you know? Why do you feel that way?”
SARAH: That they’re like, “Uh, can we stop talking about gender and sexuality so we can go watch TV?”
MARGARET: Yeah, sometimes they’re like, “We know!!!!” [laughs] ‘Cause I’m like, let me turn this into a lesson, and they’re like, “We already know, Mom!” I’m like, “You’re right.”
SARAH: [chuckles] So that’s all super positive. I’m wondering about how violence and fear affects your family in any way. I would think especially now with Trump in office, we’re hearing a lot of homophobia. We’re hearing a lot of worries about people not being able to be with people they love and families getting broken up. Is that something that affects your family in a significant way?
MARGARET: I would say before that, we were already in a place of– So my kids are mixed. I’m Black, and their dad is white. For the last two years, we had been having a lot of conversations about violence from policemen on Black men and women. And then particularly, when Tamir Rice was killed, that was a really big deal for us. That’s when we told the kids, “You don’t get to play with toy guns. Anything that looks like it could be used as a weapon you don’t get to play with.” So I think for my kids, they were already living with a certain reality. And then they understand that there’s also, yes, homophobia. I think, to me and them, there’s the thing of like if a queer person is white, they’re still white. And then we’re still Black. So even if we were straight, our skin color would still set us apart.
SARAH: Where do you guys find role models for your kids and for relationships, especially in pop culture. Our pop culture is pretty straight, pretty white. Are there TV shows or movies or books that your kids love that you feel like represent your family or people that you want them to be like?
MARGARET: Huh. We’ve been trying to get them more books with other kids of color in them [laughs], which is not…. At first I was like, “Where are these books? There are none.” And then once you start finding them, you’re like, “Wow. There’s so many. Why aren’t these in libraries? Why aren’t these at the school?” And then, there isn’t very much on TV or in books about non-binary people, non-binary couples. There isn’t very much about polyamory, I guess, either. And if it is, I feel like we just can’t relate to it. We can’t relate to middle class white people in a triad where it’s a man and two women, and they’re still cis people.
But for my kids, I run a Black self-care day. So they participate in that. I do a Black women’s tea, Black women femme tea, and Riley, my daughter, participates in that as well. And I run a discussion group where it’s a mixture of people of color and white people, and we come and we talk about race and what not. And they’re a part of that. So we try to make sure that they’re also, aside from what they’re reading or watching, they’re also around other people who are similar. That’s why we live in this huge house that’s always full of people. We usually do Friday night dinners for Shabbat. My partner is Jewish. And that’s always other polyamorous people or non-monogamous people and queer people and non-binary people. And there, they also see this example of what the world is like. And that is their world. These Friday night dinners, that’s what their reality is.
SARAH: I feel like you’ve made such a beautiful universe for your kids.
MARGARET: [laughs] Trying.
SARAH: I know a lot of queer people have complicated feelings about marriage, and you’re getting married to your partner, Noah. Can you talk about the decision to get married and why that feels special to you and how it’s complicated?
MARGARET: Yeah. That’s so funny ‘cause this is the second time I’m getting married. I loved being married the first time, but I know that we also got married under the guise of we were both so religious. And it feels differently this time. It feels like I get to make the choice. There’s very few things that I believe in doing as a ritual [chuckling]. I’m just not that kind of person. But this seems like one that I could invest in. And the fact that I’m going to bring all of these people that I love and share in this, I guess, union with another human–which is crazy–I’m really excited about. The first time I got married, we eloped. It was awesome, and it was really intimate. This time, I feel like I’m making a really big choice, and I’m making this choice in front of all of this people, this commitment, and they’re there. I always thought like if I get divorced, I’ll never get married again, and I’ll just have a long-time partner or something. When I met my partner, within a few months, I was like, “I’m gonna marry you. You’re a person that I would like to build a life with for hopefully the rest of my life and watch that evolve and have you as my anchor.”
SARAH: Why does it feel important to you to get married? What’s the difference there?
MARGARET: I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I know that it feels really important, and I know I’m really happy with my choice in proposing to him. I think there’s also–I had this conversation with Noah, actually the other day, where I was like–I actually don’t want to ever not be partnered with you. And I feel like making this choice to do that is me also committing to putting in this effort that I don’t know if I would’ve done outside of that. Which sounds really shitty, but I think it’s important to me to make this commitment to this person that I think is the I don’t wanna say my soul mate; I don’t like that word.
SARAH: [laughs] What’s wrong with soul mate?
MARGARET: I just don’t know why. I’m really weird about words like soul mate and lover. Ack! Oh my god.
SARAH: Is it because you don’t believe in souls, or is it just too cheesy?
MARGARET: [laughs] I just don’t like the word! I think souls are so real [laughs]! This is my person, and I have a lot of conversations with other non-monogamous people and other non-hierarchical people about this. I do think that I’ve found my person and that I want to be married to them.
SARAH: There’s a lot of critique of marriage of saying it’s a patriarchal, heteronormative institution.
SARAH: You can’t take it and make it your own. How are you trying to take it and make it your own, or is it a moot point ‘cause you’re just like, “Fuck it?”
MARGARET: I do believe in things where it must be dismantled in order to change but also believe that some things have to be changed by doing them. I don’t think that I am anyone that does uphold a lot of like, I don’t uphold patriarchy. Or at least I don’t try to. I think it’s impossible for me to fit into what is “norm.” So for me, getting married, I don’t think that is me being normal or upholding anything. I think it’s me making my choice because I was given a choice. And there’s also the part of me that people who are Black and white weren’t always able to get married. That’s still such a recent thing. That’s something I also wanna take advantage of. That’s not a thing I take for granted at all. Being able to be with my white partners, that’s not a thing that I take lightly.
So that also, to me, is this form of resisting what is normal. I think maybe if I was a white person who was cis, then maybe I don’t need to get married. But I’m not that, you know? Our whole wedding is two days of just celebration and just ridiculous. I’m getting married in a suit and then changing into a gown and then also wearing a jumpsuit, and we’re having a crawfish boil. It’s all these things that are just us and celebrating who we are.
SARAH: I’m glad celebrating who you are involves a jumpsuit [chuckles].
MARGARET: [laughs] I actually don’t know! I don’t know who I was before jumpsuits. I don’t know how I was existing.
[music with lyrics]
♪ Hug me closer, mother, closer
Put your arms around me tight
For I’m holding tight, dear mother
And I feel so strange tonight… ♪
SARAH: You can follow Margaret and their whole beautiful family on Instagram and all the other places @margejacobsen.
Next up, Yasmin Nair
YASMIN: As you may know, I do a lot of critiques of a lot of people and things, right? And I take care to be careful in my critiques. I do the same thing in my personal life, which is if I’m critical of someone, I’m not just gonna throw mud at them. I’m gonna be like, “This is why this is fucked up!” [chuckles] So.
SARAH: [chuckles] That’s her! Keep listening.
[song from above continued]
♪ As I lay upon my bed
How I’m trying to be patient
And to think of what you said
Just before the lamps were lighted
Just before the children came
While the room was very quiet
I heard someone call my name…. ♪
SARAH: Just a quick plug here. Popaganda is produced by the team here at Bitch Media. If you didn’t know, Bitch is an independent, non-profit feminist media organization. We’re entirely funded by our Beehive members, subscribers, and like-minded sponsors. So if you liked today’s episode of Popaganda, please become a member online at BitchMedia.org today. Let us know if you liked the show in your order comments.
OK. On with the show.
SARAH: Yasmin Nair is a prolific writer whose work focuses on sexuality, queer theory, and critiques of capitalism. She’s been particularly critical of the mainstream gay rights movement and the push for same-sex marriage. She’s the cofounder of a group called Against Equality. Yasmin, who is originally from Calcutta, Indian and now lives in Chicago, is just a fascinating person to talk to, one of those people who makes even a simple question really interesting and complicated.
Like, I asked the basic question of who she thinks of as her family, and she contested the basic idea of family.
YASMIN: Right. So in terms of I prefer to not think of it as a family unit, but I do think of myself as occupying and being part of a very strong, and in some cases, very old network of friends and familiars, including cats and friends with cats and cats with friends. But no, I think of it as a network of friendships, actually, sort of a complicated series of networks that function a bit like, I guess, the rings around Saturn [chuckles]. That’s how I think of my people, my tribes.
SARAH: So what do you think of reclaiming the word “family?” Why do you see yourself in a tribe or in a network of friendships or in a pile of cats [chuckles], but not in a family?
YASMIN: Right. And for a lot of queers, I think reclaiming family’s important. A lot of people will call out to alternative families or families of choice, for instance; that’s how they refer to them. For me, I’m also a Marxist feminist. So for me, it’s also about being critical about the notion of a family as something that’s very much implicated in a particular state apparatus, and to put it brutally, is mostly about collecting taxes. We tend to think of the family as a kind of naturally occurring, intimate configuration, and it’s actually something that’s very much socially, politically, and certainly economically constructed. In order to enable the state, really, to benefit the most. And it also enables a certain kind of patriarchy, as we all know. The idea of the family always involves who is the head of the family? Who are the subordinates in the family? Who’s the breadwinner and so on? And it’s not that that cannot be “subverted,” but it’s just that I see it pointless to sort of even try and subvert a structure that has been with us for millennia and has been so troubling for women, children, queer people, anyone who’s outside that rigidly defined idea of family.
SARAH: Yeah, when you think about it, friendships are a really powerful force. Friendships, I feel like, are often discounted and devalued, especially in comparison to blood relatives.
YASMIN: I have noticed especially in the United States, when I moved here, I did notice that a lot of people use the phrase “we’re just friends.” And I always thought, what do you mean JUST friends? Friends are the best!! That’s the most intense relationship. Your husband should be your friend.
SARAH: This is maybe too big of a question, but how do you feel like queerness impacts your idea of family and the way you see those lifelong relationships?
YASMIN: Yes, it was very much a part of also defining friends and friendships in my life. My friends and I, when I was at Purdue in the ’90s, we formed a very close-knit band of groups. And we were very particular about defining ourselves as queer. This was also 1992, around the time when queer theory was becoming a thing in the university. I think queerness was very integral to that because what queerness, at least for us, as we were thinking through and theorizing it, not just in the texts we were writing but in our lives, was about first of all not heeling to the usual conventional boundaries of what was acceptable. So for instance, queerness meant that you could be friends with somebody and perhaps have a sort of almost sibling relation–and I had this–almost sibling kind of relationship with somebody, which might then shift into a cozy or a sexual relationship and then go back to being friends without sex and then at the same time be involved in helping each other figure out how to get this person they were interested in, you might be interested in, interested back in you and so on.
So what I think queerness really allowed us to do was to really think that relationships are very complicated, and it’s OK to be complicated. Whereas I think if we had been– And that was very much deliberate on our parts. We would say, I think in our relationships, we were constantly asking each other how do we remain connected to each other with a kind of integrity that is actually fundamentally queer without screwing each other over, without of course hurting each other, but also being aware that queerness means that we get to test these boundaries of who you can be and who you can’t be.
SARAH: So this is a show about family values. So what do you see as the core values that define your friendships? What are your friendship values, I guess?
YASMIN: Well, one value would be that you stay friends with someone even when they’re going through a terribly hard time, or even when [chuckles] they’re being complete assholes. And I think that’s also the test of a friendship. So there are people, for instance, in the outer ambit who might– Am I allowed to use the word “asshole” on this? Do I have to change it?
SARAH: [laughs] No, we call people assholes all the time.
YASMIN: So I think one, and I’ve been very different kinds of people over the years, people have stuck with me, the same as I hope is true of my relationships with them. So I think one feature of how one defines a friendship and how one sustains is to see people threw very hard times, even when they’re being very hard on you. So that’s really important because what matters is that relationship that you had with them for a long time, the relationship that actually makes the two of you who you are and that evolves. I think also really for me, what makes friendship, in a way, more dynamic than family where a lot of people simply feel that they have to stick with someone because blood, because related.
SARAH: Let’s talk about your thoughts on marriage. So you’ve published a lot of writing about queer critiques of marriage, and in part, it’s because it involves relationships with a capitalist state that you say is exploitive at its core. So how has your thinking on marriage evolved? How do you think of marriage these days, now that it’s legal for all LGBT people in the United States, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision about three years ago on the Defense of Marriage Act?
YASMIN: I think the problem with marriage has always been that it is a sign of the neoliberal times overtaking us. So when gay marriage did not become legal because people thought, oh, these sweet, sad gay couples just need to be happy and have children and all of that. Gay marriage became legal because it helped make the neoliberal state stronger. So what do I mean by that? Neoliberalism is fundamentally about the privatization of resources. There are longer arguments to be made about what it is and so on. But in essence, it is about privatizing resources like education, healthcare, housing, even water, for instance, that should actually be given over to the public. But these things have, increasingly over the last 40-odd years, became severely privatized.
So what gay marriage did was to actually mark a change even to gay community where in the ’90s, for instance, during the AIDS crisis, gay people were marching; queers were marching for universal healthcare as a response to the AIDS crisis, as a response to the fact that people were literally dying because hospitals would not take care of them. Forget about healthcare. What happened in the ’90s is you saw the gay community’s pivoting around after it became a “manageable crisis,” for mostly wealthy and mostly white gay men. And then you saw movement towards marriage. And then argument then became, well, if we can get married, we can get our partners on our healthcare, right? So what gay marriage represents is the ultimate privatization of something as essential as healthcare and along with it, things like citizenship. So you had the argument, which they won, that gay people should be able to get their marriage partners into the country for citizenship. So it’s no surprise, for instance, that in Britain where they have, they’ve had for many years, a National Health Service, in Britain now, as that weakens, there’s a rise in support for gay marriage, which is all, again, about the privatization of healthcare. So all of that is no surprise.
So that’s my fundamental critique of gay marriage. It’s not so much that it represents a cultural or social assimilation but that it is a movement that has helped become a vital cog for neoliberalism and the privatization of resources.
SARAH: I think a lot of feminist people feel that way, really conflicted about the institution of marriage and building their basic family unit around marriage. In the United States at least, marriage is such obviously a messy institution that mashes together tax law, healthcare policies, romantic love, economic history, monogamy. Is there anywhere that you see relationships that are defined in a way that resonates with you more? Like examples of where you say, “Ah, yeah. That works.”
YASMIN: Well, in Scandinavia, for instance, in places like Sweden and Norway, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re married or not. The same is true of Canada. So for me, it’s not so much about relationships; it’s about what do people expect, and what do they get from the state? So in Canada, for instance, when gay marriage became legal, a lot of Canadian gays just shrugged their shoulders and went on their way. You see, they didn’t have to get married. It didn’t make a difference to them. People didn’t have to get married because of healthcare issues. The same is true in places like Sweden and Norway where men and women get leave for childcare, for pregnancy and so on. The system works for everyone. So you don’t have to affirm yourself as some sad gay person or some marvelously fruitful married couple. You don’t have to move through this affective register to prove your worth as a human being, to get something as basic as healthcare, or for that matter, education.
SARAH: These issues around marriage and who has the right to be married, so much of it comes down to rights in our society and how certain rights—especially around taxes and healthcare in the United States—are only given to people who are married. But other hand, a lot of queer people have pushed back on that said that marriage is something that’s really important and worth fighting for and worth defending the right to get married. Weddings can be beautiful expressions of love and especially our statement of happiness and joy and celebration of relationships that are so often demeaned. So I know a lot of queer feminists have problems with marriage, sure, but still want to get married themselves. How do you talk to the friends in your life who wanna get married about that choice and those tricky feelings?
YASMIN: I have been the official wedding photographer [laughs] for friends’ unions. So I don’t have any problem with that at all. My attitude about marriage is simply, again this is about individuals. Fine. If you and another person feel that marriage means something to you, and I love you enough, I’ll be there. And that’s different. My response to all of them is it’s one thing to say that personally, on an individual level for me, this is what marriage means. That’s fine. What I don’t like is when you fight for the system to become such that only married people like you can access the benefits. So that’s different.
In Sweden people do get married. Not as often as here, perhaps, but they do get married in very different ways. But for one thing, I’m not sure any other country has quite the marriage industrial complex that we have here. It’s really quite ridiculous. But it’s one thing to have an emotional and affective tie to marriage. That’s fine. I really don’t care about that. But for me what matters, again, is what are you and what are we fighting for in terms of the benefits, the basic, fundamental rights that people should have regardless of whether or not they’re married. So I really don’t have a problem with people wanting to be married. Friends of mine are married, and that’s fine with me. There’s a difference between an individual, personal choice and how you fight for that personal choice to become the system-wide choice that everybody then has to sign onto.
SARAH: There’s no right way to have a family. That’s what’s cool about the idea of reframing “family values,” that there can be a diversity of values, and families can look all sorts of ways. Too often, families that don’t fit a narrow, old-school idea of respectability are seen as bad. In so many ways, our society sends the message that in order to have a “good” family, you need to have two monogamous, wealthy married, parents, two kids would be ideal, everybody gets along harmoniously. But life is messier than that, and that’s good! Whether your family is made of friends or made of many lovers or made of a husband and kids, you can form your own values and live by them. Having a strong family that looks just the way you want it to is actually a powerful act of resistance.
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