Gay men marry for survival, but that's only half the story

By Edwin Okolo Friday, May 15, 2020 - 19:57
Feminist and queer spaces have been having a long and difficult conversation around the institution of marriage. One of the reasons was the ‘sudden’ coming out of British television presenter Phillip Schofield, after 27 years of marriage to a cis straight woman. Much of the commentary that has followed his coming out praised Schofield for his bravery to come out and offered support as he leaves his marriage and focuses on living publicly as a gay man.

This story was triggering for many Africans because this story is quite familiar to us. Men with wives and families who choose to abandon them after decades of marriage to live their truth whether as homosexual men or starting life afresh with a younger woman is a common trope. It was especially triggering because Schofield’s coming out story dismissed the feelings and alleged suffering of his wife, who Schofield admits did not know he was gay when they initially married.

Discussions about motivations behind Schofield’s decisions quickly divided the usually united queer and feminist communities. Feminists argued that women should not be collateral damage in the fight for survival that most queer people must engage in. Queer people argued that singling out homosexuality as a deal-breaker for a loveless marriage was homophobic, because the main reason why gay men were marrying anyways, was because marriage as it currently practised grants privileges to men, no matter the man’s sexual orientation.

While both parties had their clearly defined concerns, there were a lot of worrying generalizations involved in the discussion. Especially around the idea that gay men needed to marry unsuspecting heterosexual women to ‘survive’.

Granted, marriage is one way to survive the persecution queer people face, but it is also a way that only really favours men. Queer women in hetero-apparent (thanks @Ohtimehin) do not enjoy the benefits that marriage provides to queer men. Instead it subjects them to the many gender specific demands marriage makes of women and exposes them to gendered violence.

Marriage is a survival method that only favours men, and all men, heterosexual or not are incentivized to preserve marriage as it currently exists. Marriage in its current form offers specific advantages, such as access to free labour & child care (statistics have proven even in progressive homes, women still do most of the domestic labour), social class (married men are offered more career opportunities than single men),  & companionship as homosexual men are less likely to stay in unhappy same-sex relationships while women are pressured socially to endure unhappy marriages.

Many gay men marry straight women to access those privileges. Survival is a convenient narrative, but it is also a shallow one that does not express fully why men would risk exposure and shame to marry unsuspecting cis heterosexual women. Dismantling this narrative of survival allows queer people as whole seek other alternatives of survival that does not cause such significant damage not only to the couple involved but to everyone they interact closely with.

 

 

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