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A love letter to queer family in the wake of marriage equality

I was not expecting the blush that spread in a thin flame underneath my skin when news of the Obergefell decision showed up on my phone. But I recognized it: It was the feeling of expanded possibility. 

I guess I must have been fifteen or sixteen when I figured out — like, really figured out — that queerness was a thing, that I could have sex with women, that I could love people I was not supposed to love, that one could even do that. It was like being punched in the gut; the dimensions of the world changed. A way of being in the world that was not supposed to be possible became possible, and it tasted good.

For some of us, for a lot of us — for me — marriage is a similar feeling. Legal prohibition is a material issue — it deprives us of tax benefits, health insurance, the right to a bitchin’ party. But there is a very real way in which the limits of legal recognition establish limits of imagination: The state’s ability to imagine us, to remember us, and to have to be accountable to us. But also, our ability to imagine each other, ourselves: I didn’t realize that marriage prohibition fit like a bra that was too tight until it was taken off of me and my boobs bounced free, but in the decision was the same feeling of expanded lungs, expanded worlds.

This expansion is not necessarily the case: Alexandra argued recently, and rightly — in a jubilant-yet-cautionary, or cautionary-yet-jubilant post — that the framing of the marriage decision itself reaffirms a hierarchy of families, with nuclear coming out on top. (“Nuclear families box other families out of the ring as gays get married!” the post-match headline reads.)

A lot of us make queer families — families that are not nuclear, single-parent families, poly families, families of friends, families of siblings, families of people who hate each other but must make rent — because we do not have another choice. The families we come from do not want us, or we have no families in the first place, or we can only be our partial selves around the families to which we are assigned, or we are compelled to create or remain in situations that are harmful to us because of poverty, illness, duty, guilt.

The families we make because we must, the families we make that our government decrees impossible, deserve every single bit as much legal recognition as the families in glossy stock photos of blond femmes in chic wedding dresses (which, yes, still make me a combination of sappy and horny). They deserve to be treated not as the fuck-ups, the cast-offs, the ghostly-doubles of nuclear families, gay-marriage families, homo-white-picket-fence families, but their own manifestations of human love.

The queer families that we make because we want to, because we crave community and we can, because we are creative under constraint, because we are creative when there is no restraint, deserve the same.

Because I don’t want the fence, even if I could have it. I want a family as big and messy — as queer — as the one I grew up in, whose nuclearity was sometimes more nuclear-grade: For whom thirty people at Thanksgiving was paltry; who overstayed our welcome; who descended upon public places like picnic-going ants; who entertained each other’s chaos — expansive.

Legal recognition — even legal recognition presented in an exclusionary framework — does not have to shut us down, make us smaller, confine us to the framework of the nuclear family, compel us to abandon solidarity with ways of being human that remain stigmatized in practice or under the law.

Rather, legal recognition can open up the space to imagine and recognize different ways of being — and thus, different human beings. That is the creative endeavor of queerness: An always-political project of human community — and, because we are only people in communities, human personhood.

So I walk around on Pride in New York City this weekend past Ubers festooned with rainbow flags and I’m tearing up and my friend is muttering the word homocapitalism but the joke is on them, because in our bodies is a big old lust for community and a big old lust for love and a big old lust for solidarity, which is mobilized love, and it is unquenchable.

Marriage is a tool in making this community. Not the only tool, not the tool for all problems, not a tool that everybody will choose, not a tool more important or dignified than all other tools, and certainly, still, not a tool to which everybody has cultural, material, or emotional access.

But it is our tool, and we may just use it.

I will not privatize my love. I want community as unruly as we are. I want family as big and as queer as our dreams.

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing her masters.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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