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June 20, 2013

Steven Thrasher: ‘Master Bedroom, Extra Closet – The Truth About Gay Marriage’

Posted in: LGBT

Ace scribe Steven Thrasher — who was named Journalist of the Year in 2012 by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association — knows how to get a rise out of readers with his stellar work that often explores race, class, and LGBT issues. Blend readers may recall his epic piece at the Village Voice, “White America Has Lost Its Mind,” written in the wake of the right-wing’s reaction to the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first black POTUS. I mean, how can you not react to this opening salvo….classic:

About 12:01 on the afternoon of January 20, 2009, the white American mind began to unravel.

It had been a pretty good run up to that point. The brains of white folks had been humming along cogently for near on 400 years on this continent, with little sign that any serious trouble was brewing. White people, after all, had managed to invent a spiffy new form of self-government so that all white men (and, eventually, women) could have a say in how white people were taxed and governed. White minds had also nearly universally occupied just about every branch of that government and, for more than two centuries, had kept sole possession of the leadership of its executive branch (whose parsonage, after all, is called the White House).

But when that streak was broken—and, for the first time, a non-white president accepted the oath of office—white America rapidly began to lose its grip.

We had a lot of fun with it during a liveblog on PHB: “Stepping on the third rail of race w/Steven Thrasher of ‘White America Has Lost Its Mind‘ (Monday October 11, 2010).


Now Steven steps into some controversy of another kind —  he takes a look at the successful (and necessary) political sales pitch by LGBT rights activists to present a model of marriage that increasingly (and not surprisingly) doesn’t look very traditional at all, for obvious reasons, in “Master Bedroom, Extra Closet: The Truth About Gay Marriage” over at Gawker.

In the fight for marriage rights, gay activists have (smartly) put forward couples who embody a familiar form of unity. Straight people see Edith Windsor, the octogenarian lesbian widow fighting the Defense of Marriage Act, and they see a life that mirrors their own. The $300,000 tax bill she was slapped with when her wife died is an obvious injustice.

But not all gay unions are built on the straight model, particularly when it comes to the issue of monogamy. The Gay Couples Study out of San Francisco State University—which, in following over 500 gay couples over many years is the largest on-going study of its kind—has found thatabout half of all couples have sex with someone other than their partner, with their partner knowing.

The gay rights movement has made a calculated decision to highlight the similarities, not the differences, between straight and gay love on the road to marriage equality.

A caveat here, which Steven expounds upon below — we’re talking about the patterns of relationships relating to gay men, not lesbians (though why finding that lesbians are not likely to pursue open, committed relationships surprises him, I’m not sure).  Yep, the stereotype holds true, but it doesn’t politically serve matters to discuss it openly.

Peter Zupcofska, a leading marriage and divorce attorney for same-sex couples, says he’s dealt with premarital agreements between gay men in which they’ve agreed that sex with other people “would not be a reason to penalize each other.” Before they ever said “I do,” they wrote a contract with “the intention that they’d have an open relationship once they were married.”

Zupcofska says he has never drawn up such a clause for a heterosexual couple nor, fascinatingly, for a lesbian couple. A study out of UCLA found that two-thirds of formally legalized same-sex couples are made up of women; yet, nearly all the studies about sex and monogamy in same-sex couples focus exclusively on men.

Gay-rights groups are often nervous about sociologists or reporters looking too closely at what really happens in the bedrooms of gay relationships, out of fear that anti-gay activists will bludgeon them with a charge of sexual promiscuity, as a reason to deny them equal rights. But now that gays and lesbians are on the cusp of having access to marriage equality, will the conversation about monogamy change within queer culture? And would straight support have helped gays get the marriage rights they now have if the truly complex nature of sexual boundaries for gay couples were more openly talked about?

On the eve of this new era, I talked to a number of married gays and lesbians about these sometimes uncomfortable questions: a former Catholic priest from Connecticut who married his partner of three decades; a gay marriage and divorce attorney from Massachusetts; a highly religious, sexually monogamous couple in their thirties; two dads of infant children who are in a sexually open relationship; and a leading lesbian marriage equality advocate.

Steven brilliantly connects the story with his own experiences. And what about straight folks and non-monogamy? More below the fold.

On of the interviewees in the piece is writer Tony Adams, who for five years was a Catholic parish priest, and after leaving the priesthood, met his life partner of 30 years Chris Adams.

For straight people, Adams says, talking about monogamy brings up a “terrain of fear.”

“Straight people fear a lot of things,” he says. “I think they fear that, without monogamy, couples will break apart. And I just think that that is not always the case.” He knows gay couples who are “very monogamous,” he says, and couples who claim to be but are not.

“No one wants that, and my husband and I did not want that,” he says. “We talked about that from the beginning.”

And his straight friends and relatives have had to deal with cheating in marriage. “What does that tell us about human nature?” he says. “Is it part of human nature to be polyamorous, to use an obnoxious word? Or is it just that men are dogs? In terms of owning it, gay men do seem to own our dog nature better than straight men do. And whose fault is that? Is it straight women who have domesticated their dogs, their men? Or is it something that is mutually set up? Men wanted exclusive rights over their women, and women wanted the same over their men?”

Sexual non-exclusive straight couples—“swingers”— are not so rare. ABC News and the Kinsey institute have found that there are several million swingers in the country, although they only add up to small percentage of married couples. But swingers do share something fundamental with about half of gay couples: they tend to be closeted about not being monogamous.

Click over for a fascinating, controversial, and thought-provoking discussion.


An aside — I would like to thank Steven Thrasher for the very kind public message he posted on Facebook in the wake of the news that PHB is closing down.

One of the great joys of my time as a journalist was the friendship I formed with Pam Spaulding, a kindred lesbian black blogger who got — really got, in a way few people do at a shared gut level – the space I was writing from. Pam and I were some of the few writing about the overlap between African American and LGBT America these past few years, and she was one of the only people to understand that the myth of black homophobia was being overblown.

As I struggled to maintain just my job at the Voice, I marveled at how Pam – despite having a fulltime job and terrible health problems – routinely cranked out far more material than I did, day in and day out. (And there was no cheap blogging by volume, either — her writing was constructed with and permeated by original facts, new reporting, and fearlessly intelligent, rigorously intellectual ideas.) When I encountered my own health problems, she became even more of a kindred friend, sharing from her own experience and helping me to have courage in the example of how she lived her life.

One of the happiest days of my working life was when Pam had me as a live chat guest in the Blend when “White America Has Lost Its Mind” came out. She is as funny as she is fearless and intelligent.

Nothing seemed to keep Pam down – not racism, not sexism, not heterosexism, not calling out GLAAD’s “institutional rot,” not health problems, not even that wretched Righthaven that tried to destroy her before they destroyed themselves.

Nor is she beat, now: she is, with courage and dignity and intelligence, making space in her life in a new way for the wonderful gifts she has to share. I am happy for those who will get to experience those gifts.

But how sad I am that she will not be sharing them with us in the same way anymore. I am heartbroken to see that she is shutting down Pam’s House Blend, but I admire her courage to do so with dignity, and I have a heart full of gratitude that she has left this gem of LGBT, African American and political life of America.

Pam, you have my utmost love and respect. It sucks you’re getting out. All I can say is that almost every LGBT writer I respect has gotten out too, and I am trying to figure out where to go, myself. I am happy for you and your wife that you’ll have more time for each other, but damn it, I am heartbroken for all of us – and for the reading American public – that yet another first rate writer, who was never afraid to tell things as they REALLY are, is disappearing from the conversation.

Thank you for your service. I am proud to call you my friend.

Steven W. Thrasher

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