Fifteen years ago, I met the love of my life, Lucinda Atherton. Then, as now, I was a spokesperson for the National Organization for Men Against Sexism, an organization that is pro-feminist, gay-affirming and anti-racist. Then, as now, I worked to stop men’s violence against women, drawing the connections between homophobia and sexism. A proponent of marriage equality, I had a crisis of conscience when I realized I wanted to marry Lucinda. My internal monologue at the time may have sounded something like this:
Me: Why are you getting married? You’re a feminist—you know traditional marriage was the transfer of ownership of a woman from the father to the husband! Participating in this institution buys into historical sexism and thus supports it.
Myself: That is the historical root of marriage, but both the meaning of marriage and the ceremony have evolved. Marriage is an evolving institution, and there are feminist weddings performed by feminist ministers. Plus, I really love Lucinda and I want to spend my life with her.
Me: Then call yourselves “partners” like all the other feminists do! Have a commitment ceremony, not a wedding!
Myself: It won’t mean as much if it’s not a wedding. Lucinda really wants a wedding, and her family wouldn’t understand a commitment ceremony.
Me: Oh, so you’re saying commitment ceremonies don’t mean anything? How nice for you that you have the privilege to even have this choice. You both have friends in same-sex relationships who don’t have the option to marry. And you have hetero friends who are refusing to get married until the law changes. Why not stay true to your politics and choose that option?
Myself: I know, and I respect that. I even felt that way myself for most of my life.
Me: Then you are being hypocritical by choosing this privileged option. Because you happened to fall in love with a woman, you have access to this option that many do not.
Myself: I really am in love with Lucinda! I want to get married. I promise to work hard until marriage equality is the law. I have a feeling it’s going to happen soon in my home state of Massachusetts.
Me: Okay, fine. Go ahead. Bask in the glow of power and privilege. Congratulations to the happy couple.
Myself: Um … thanks. I guess.
Me: At least, if you’re going to get married, use it to help dismantle homophobia and heterosexism. Instead of “just another bisexual guy,” you can now present yourself as a fantastic Married Heterosexual Ally!
Myself: Uh …
Me: You’ve been working for marriage equality! You know that married hetero allies get more airtime and are taken more seriously. Oh, this is perfect! I’ve changed my mind. Get married! Be the new poster child for Married Heterosexual Allies for Marriage Equality!
Myself: Um …
Me: Let’s see—we could start an organization. MHAME isn’t that great an acronym. Hmm … I’ve got it! How about SHARE Marriage? Straight Heterosexual Allies Respecting Equal Marriage. Okay, for our first press conference, let’s invite—
Myself: I’m not heterosexual.
Me: Oh, come on! Technically, you’re not. But you’re not going to have sex with anyone but Lucinda again. Ever.
Myself: That doesn’t mean I’m heterosexual. I’m bi.
Me: You’re splitting hairs! How many guys have you had sex with?
Myself: You know it’s only one. Well, unless you count … Okay, maybe three.
Me: So why not change your label? It’d do so much good for marriage equality.
Myself: Because it feels wrong. Even having a conversation where I’m thinking of saying, “I’m heterosexual,” feels wrong in the pit of my stomach. I feel like I’m lying.
Myself: Remember when my friend heard about my getting married, and said, “I’m glad you’ve stopped pretending you’re bisexual?”
Me: Yeah, that was pretty biphobic.
Myself: I can still work for marriage equality, and I will.
Me: Sigh … It would have been such a great group. SHARE Marriage—
Myself: Too bad that real life is sometimes more nuanced—
Me: —than a bumper sticker.
Myself: I guess sometimes, when the question is asked—
Me: —and the answer is “I’m bisexual—”
Myself: —it’s not the end of the conversation.
Me: It’s the beginning.
Excerpted and used with permission from the forthcoming anthology Recognize: The Voices of Bisexual Men.
Ben Atherton-Zeman lectures and performs a feminist one-man play on college campuses and in communities. He lives with his amazing wife Lucinda in Maynard, MA—they have no children except for themselves.