Jackson Bliss thought that marriage would be the death of his masculinity. Then he realized that it helped him become a stronger, more courageous and more complete human being.
After LB and I became serious, I routinely ignored her hints about getting married, flicking them off my sleeves like breadcrumbs. Usually, I’d change the subject. Or I’d give her a long hug and tell her I loved her. Besides, she was a decorated marriage veteran, wearing an invisible Purple Heart for her battle wounds from her first marriage (dude cheated on her). Just as importantly, I was an adamant critic of the institution of marriage at the time. At any given instant, I could spew a furious and multiplying list of reasons on why the institution of marriage was irrevocably fucked up. The list was always in flux, but the basic arguments went something like this:
- DOMA is profoundly discriminatory and same-sex couples should be able to marry whoever the fuck they want
- Historically, marriage was an act of tribal consolidation and economic protectionism, connected to property rights and the ownership of female bodies
- Radical social conservatives have been using straight marriage to rally single-issue voters for so long now that it’s become an act of cultural chauvinism, a political gesture of hypocrisy and a tool of oppression to deny legal and proprietary rights to gay couples. Therefore, every new straight marriage reinforces a complicit and codified discrimination against non-straight couples
My personal arguments were much simpler:
- I don’t want to doom our relationship by following impossible expectations
- Marriage always turns into friendship with diminishing bennies. Why complicate something so simple as love?
- Marriage is slow-motion castration. Why sublimate my sexuality for a daydream?
- Marriage kills the romance and the sexual chemistry of a good relationship. Why ruin a good thing for an impossible ideal?
- Marriage is a baby boomer obsession. Gen X and Gen Y don’t have the same hang-ups. We can get down or disengage whenever we want
In some cases, these arguments are still valid. But something changed inside me three years ago. I was driving through K-town with a friend when I had this epiphany: I don’t have to get married for all the fucked-up reasons I abhor marriage, I can get married for all the things that make marriage beautiful. For my very own reasons. It seems so obvious now, but it wasn’t so obvious inside my head. Once I returned to our Hollywood apartment, I opened the front door, ran to LB, gave her a huge hug and said: —I think we should get married, boo! LB told me not to joke around with marriage. She said she’d wanted us to marry me for so long now that she’d given up hope. She said Latinas don’t play with marriage, so if I valued my life at all I’d stop joking around. I laughed and told her I meant every word. I told her I wanted to be with her forever and that it was only now that I understood the way couples could shape marriage into their own creation, a collective Galatea project of passionate love, bedrock friendship and dynamic and continuous personal growth.
When we’d finally opened ourselves to that bold gesture of togetherness, we both cried like in telenovelas. A month later, we drove to the Beverly Hills courthouse and got married with tears streaming down our faces again. The sweet judge who married us that day said she could see how much we loved each other. She said in so many words that our vows were redundant. Afterwards, we called our shocked parents to let them know the impossible had happened. We went to Urth Café in West Hollywood with some friends and ate vegan chocolate cake. Two days later, we flew to Tokyo for our honeymoon and visited as many Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples as possible. We wanted to thank our ancestors and the Buddha for bringing us together.
There are plenty of legit reasons not to get married. And clearly, marriage isn’t right for everyone (whatever their sexual orientation). It wasn’t even right for me until one mysterious day in 2010. But after being together for over seven years and married for almost four, I realize that marriage can be an intensely personal and intensely beautiful daydream that you share with the most important person in your life. Sometimes, you wake up from that co-created dream, other times you’re gone forever. And that’s okay, because part of marriage is pure raw intention.
But marriage is not the death of your masculinity or the death of your sex life. For too long now, male bachelorhood has had complete jurisdiction over the operative definition of masculinity. For too long, we’ve defined straight masculinity through the trope of the skirt-chaser and non-straight masculinity through the cruiser, as if only hunters were real men. The sexually dominant single male bachelor who rode a motorcycle, forgot to shave and didn’t call back the next day was always the real man, not the happily-married guy holding his wife’s (or husband’s) hand in the hospital, not the faithful husband resisting advances in a bar or making quiche out of the blue, and not the dedicated father who reads J.K. Rowling books to his kids and kisses his partner’s head as s/he sleeps. For whatever reason, we treat husbands and dads like they’re anti-sex symbols, part of the inevitable emasculation and degeneration process that begins in the chapel of love and ends in the nursing home. From Chris Rock’s hilarious cock in a jar theory to Milan Kundera’s degrading depiction of married couples as sexless, silent and boring extras in a movie of exciting bachelor protagonists, from big pimping motifs in hip-hop music to outdated biological narratives of male germination, and everywhere in the silver screen, marriage is depicted as the death of masculinity, the death of male identity and the death of male sexuality. Here’s the thing—and I say this in the sweetest way I know how—that depiction is complete bullshit.
In a way, there’s nothing more “gangster” (and I mean this in the most evolved sense possible) in the whole world than a man abandoning the trite gender clichés of the male hustler and exposing himself, devoting himself, to love and its emotional turbulence. In a way, there’s nothing more gangster than being real, complex and vulnerable: your imperfections, contradictions and hang-ups flashing in your partner’s face every day of your life like a strobe. In a way, there’s nothing more gangster than true intimacy: learning to understand, intuit, respect and celebrate your partner’s sexuality and sexual desire (and of course, being able to make love whenever both of you want). There’s nothing more gangster than monogamy: learning to stop using new sexual partners as an escape from the work you’ve got to do in the relationship you’re already in. There’s nothing more gangster than being with someone for such a long time in such an intense way that it forces you to confront your own bullshit. There’s nothing more gangster than learning to advocate, listen, and negotiate with your (life) partner. And of course, there’s nothing more gangster than not having to be a gangster at all: to learn how to undress your own gender stereotypes (especially those that glorify violence, promiscuity and lack of empathy) and rewrite those identities into empowering counterexamples of dynamic manhood. The evolved gangster, as I like to call it, never uses violence to resolve crisis. He never tries to escape his reality, never loses his ability to empathize, compromise and communicate with his partner. He never stops trying to become a better person and a more complete human being. He never stops caring for people or animals, he strives for self-awareness and has a healthy relationship with himself. Above all else, he never disses the redemptive power of love because his marriage is the very embodiment of it.
Of course, all the great things that happen in dynamic marriages can also happen (and do happen) in dynamic relationships without the marriage vows. That’s obvious. But in some mystical way, marriage feels different to me. It’s a sort of beautiful weight that prevents me from floating up into the nebulous sky like a weather balloon (and ultimately, crashing back down to earth). It’s the awareness that my decisions will always have consequences for the person I love. It’s the sacred knowledge that she’ll always be there for me and I’ll always be there for her, even if the world collapses into chaos, global amnesia infects the planet and the streets burst into apocalyptic flames. For me, marriage is a tiny promise I’ve made to my self, to my wife, and to the universe, to be better than I actually am. When you break it all down, there’s nothing more gangster in the whole world than loving someone so much it actually engulfs you in sadness because you know there will never be enough time to express every majestic thing you feel for her when she looks at you with the sunlight in her eyes.
Other articles by Jackson Bliss:
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image credit: Flickr/Wineblat Eugene – Portraits