Saturday, August 14, 2010


monogamy. the qualifying prefix "mono" means one and the core part of the term, gamos, is a Greek term that actually means "marriage." indeed, the terms for husband and wife are gametēs and gametē respectively. the etymology of the term is not a matter of simple trivia. the practice of monogamy, as much as the word, has everything to do with marriage. this is true despite the fact that often the practice and the word are conceived of in terms of sexual partners: if you are monogamous you restrict your sexual activity to one and only one person. there are several reasons that monogamy, despite it's marital connotations, is understood in terms of what people do with their bodies. the most important reason, perhaps, is that we have made sex the very locus of value and significance in our romantic relations. but i am getting ahead of myself; we can return to this critical issue later.

even though people often intend the term to designate personal dedication to a principle of restricting physical intimacy to a single other, monogamy cannot strictly refer to a quantum of sexual partnering. if we tried to interpret "monogamy" as meaning "one sexual partner" we'd have to contend with incoherency consequent upon considerations of time and meaning. one partner? when? only one partner ever? certainly not: not only is virginity little prized when it pertains to men, few if any would claim that monogamy is not possible between two people when at least one of them has been sexually active with one or more other persons in their life. perhaps the sexual sense of the term is "one partner at a time?" in the strict senses of the terms, this is also not a viable configuration. one partner at a time would necessarily refer to one partner versus multiple partners simultaneously. few if any would imagine monogamy to refer to isolated discrete sexual encounters that involved only two individuals as opposed to a threesome, foursome, fivesome, or other orgiastic assemblages. no, monogamy in the sexual sense, refers to the complex notion of maintaining one and only one sexual partner over the course of an indeterminate period of time. this period varies in duration according to the whims of the two so involved. so the key variable here is clearly time. as we've already discerned, the span is not a single event nor is it all periods of time. so what, we might ask, makes a particular stretch of time distinct from other periods of time where sexual engagements with others does not count as non-monogamy? the period of time integral to the definition of monogamy is one in which a twosome initiate and subsequently enact a marriage whether ersatz (dating) or the genuine article (matrimony).

the institution of marriage, then, is merely the outward facing surface of the gamos, the truer marriage in which all people young and old participate when engaging one another romantically: an interpersonal arrangement that is ruled by an emotionally and psychically gripping constellation of beliefs from which the moral character of certain actions derives. it is this constellation of beliefs that i find lacking at best and the source of great suffering at its worst. from these beliefs arise contractual obligations, the structure of interpersonal dynamics, and the moral relevance of actions. and again i must ask, despite the difficulties that will inevitably befall me should i seriously pursue this inquiry, what if the very concepts that we use to imbue our relations with meaning, value, and significance, yield intense harms? is it worth reevaluating these concepts when such a task can only be done through a process of rending oneself from these grids of meaning that have thus far provided the very conditions of possibility for one's own values, identity, and aspirations? i have no conviction within me as strong and as certain as that which assures me that the long and painful process of tearing off my very skin is worth it as nothing is more important in life than love. yes, i will be utterly naked and exposed. yes i will be afraid. but the stakes cannot be weightier.

Friday, August 6, 2010

the institution of marriage

From my vantage point, the institution of marriage is a morass of loosely related social, cultural, judicial, political, and religious rituals and power structures that function primarily to bestow legitimacy on particular types of contractual unions. Of course, the very notion of legitimacy is dependent upon its obverse, illegitimacy, for its coherence and strength. Since the function of this hodgepodge of structures is to sanction, which is in essence a matter of including and excluding, it is not so difficult or strange to find oneself in opposition to it. Power is like "force" in physics: it is necessarily relational and the relation that appertains is naturally bilateral; in other words, mutual resistance is an integral aspect of power. Thus, marriage is not a static thing but an ever mutable conglomeration of beliefs, practices, etc. that are perpetually contested. To find oneself in opposition to this institution is hardly radical. But these juridical and religious practices of domination are merely a veneer finish covering a much more potent and extensive power structure: that of the conceptual matrices which organizes and makes sense of our world.

We understand the meaning, value, and significance of things by lining them up along conceptual grids or matrices. These grids of intelligibility according to which we make sense of our world, however, are hardly "God given." They are nothing more than historical constructs: the happy accidents of cultural and institutional collisions. We are docile people precisely to the degree in which our ideas conform to those matrices. No legislation moral prescription/proscription is needed where people are already convinced that they should act in such and such a way because it is natural, valuable, meaningful, significant, right, fulfilling, etc. However, we are often mistaken about genuine happiness or wellbeing and its sources. What are we supposed to do when the conceptual grid across which we make sense of our world compels us to conceive of things in a way that is harmful?

So the institution of marriage, for me, is an unworthy object of attention. From the embedded meanings, both archaic and refigured, of the symbols and rituals (white = purity = virginity = untouched by another man; vows = promises to God = intention to fulfill God's command to be fruitful and multiply; etc.), to the lopsided and outmoded gendered aspects (the daughter/bride is an object bequeathed by one man unto another), to the state's function of sanctioning only certain unions which it will then bless with a privileged status and concomitant rewards… all of these are easy targets. But even those who've soured over the institution of marriage, who've attacked it or shunned it, maintain abject loyalty (however unwittingly) to the conceptual structure which undergirds it. Seemingly unable to discern the source of their misery, countless couples, despite coming together with the most praiseworthy and admirable intentions, cause irrevocable harm to the one whom they love the most. With or without marriage, people appear as though doomed to inflict pain upon one another. But much of this pain is, in my mind, a direct consequence of poisonous ideas about love. The object of my ire is thus not marriage per se but 21st century American monogamy.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

intimacy revisited

You know, within the incomprehensibly vast spectrum of possible interactions with another human being, the organizational headers "romantic" and "platonic" seem utterly pathetic. They afford precious little while precluding so much. Physical intimacy, after all, is not only a beautiful way to connect to another human being it is a biological need. Infants, for example, that are given adequate food and shelter but who are kept from intimate contact with another human being will die rather quickly.

I think it is time that we revolt against what has been supplied us in terms of possible interactions. We are just missing out on too much. Each and every one of us are singular persons non-identical to any other person that has, does, or will live. The sheer uniqueness of each person that we come into contact with, never mind the unique context within which the interaction or relationship unfolds, necessitates a certain plasticity in our ways of engaging one another, does it not?

Do we really need to limit all of our affection to only those with whom there is hope of a lifelong romantic partnering? Can we not be affectionate with anyone dear to us as a way of expressing as much?

And "romantic vs. platonic" is not the only foul tyrant oppressing our intimacy. There is the plainly stupid category of so-called identity that we refer to as sexuality. Straight or gay? That's what I'm given to make sense of my emotions, urges, actions, etc.? I may be many things, but straight is not one of them. Neither is gay. Trying to divvy people between these two is like trying to perform a surgical incision with a broad sword. I become close with a classmate who happens to be considered the same gender as I and I cannot be affectionate without being gay? Does that really make sense to anyone? And should there be any physical expression of our closeness... well that is proof positive: I must be homosexual?

When I think of all of the men that I know or have known and all of the women that I know or have know, there is such a dizzying degree of variation that I cannot imagine how psychic or physical intimacy ever came to be parsed along gender lines in the first place. Historically speaking, it has never been as extreme as it is now.

Even gender divisions don't make a lot of sense. If I enjoy the company of burly men am I gay? What if I enjoy the companionship of extremely effeminate men? What if I tend to get close to women who are so manly as to make most men look girly? Am I straight? Gay? What if I find affections with a man who lives her life as a woman?

It cannot be simply a matter of craving penises versus vaginas. Who I want to cuddle up with at night, who I want to partner with in various domestic adventures, who I want to have children with, who I want to hold hands with... these desires cannot simply be epiphenomena arising from the particular body parts that I most want to play with. These desires are irretrievably located in the persons with whom I want to share myself in this way or that. Besides, if playing with other mens' penises didn't immediately and irrevocably make a man a fag who knows how many men might engage in such pleasures irregardless of whom they want to partner with to fulfill other needs?

Isn't it time to rescue ourselves from the cages of "romantic versus platonic," "straight versus gay," "masculine versus feminine," and other such false dichotomies? The fullest expression of our selves as creatures capable of love is presently but a glimmer on a painfully distant horizon. We can start by bucking the system. Set aside the ridiculous meanings that acting intimately are supposed to be evidence of and let such actions be just what they are: a beautiful way to express a feeling of closeness. Hold hands, kiss, touch one another affectionately, say caring things, cuddle, and caress those who are deserving of such attention from you. Someday, and it could very well be soon, you will no longer have the opportunity to express such things with those you should. And then it is too late.

(see earlier posts for what are most likely better entries on this topic)