Queer 'Aye' for Marriage
Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. If there were an airline that had a 50 percent crash rate, no one would even think of flying it. Yet people still get married. I just don't get it.
The divorce rate is just the kind of thing that gets conservatives chicken-littling about the death of family values, but their warnings haven't convinced people like me that that the marriage-kids-and-church-on-Sunday life is a good one (probably because we were raised in it). It's like the horse as a means of transportation: It really rocked when there were no other options. But when you have planes, trains and automobiles, why choose a bumpy ride that includes manure?
Instead of buying the complete traditional lifestyle many of us just extract what we want from it -- maybe we'll have the kids but not the marriage (or the marriage without the kids); the couplehood without the paper, the commitment but not the dogma -- just as we used to pull the prize from the cereal box and leave the cereal. The people who seem to want breakfast most these days are the gay community. Gay couples want to get married, have or adopt children, and attend church more than I ever did. It's like "Seventh Heaven," meets Isaac Mizrahi.
Before you dismiss that idea as a joke, consider that gay men and women may be the only ones who could possibly take our parents' dated, broken-down, traditional lifestyle, slap it with a coat of paint, a sprig of cilantro and some hair gel and make it attractive again.
And I'm not the only one who thinks so. New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote recently that marriage could use a makeover and the gay community might be just the folks to do it. Rich's cultural analysis is definitely spot on. Traditional marriage certainly needs a serious overhaul (infidelity and simple cultural weightlessness, for example). He also notes that it took five gay guys on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" to teach one straight man how to propose romantically (yes, to a woman); the implication was that they really understood the importance of the commitment.
Maybe there is a deeper understanding here, a way of looking at this traditional lifestyle that the straight people it's expected of can't see anymore. Some of the advice on the show is symbolic of that fresh view. Take, for example, the suggestion to choose dishes that aren't perfectly matched instead of sticking rigidly with one pattern. It's easy to figure out that culling things from a variety of sources gives you a flexibility, texture and warmth you won't get by insisting on one option only. That's not a way of looking at your kitchen, Miss Thing, that's a way of looking at the world.
But it's the makeover premise itself that holds the real epiphany, especially for traditionalists: When your act has become so stale you can smell it yourself it's time for a change. Fercrissakes, "Queer Eye" had a heavy metal dude on the show who had the manly nerve to cop to the times and trust the boys with his hair. His hair! And you know what? The gay guys left it pretty much as he liked it, just shaped it up a bit and gave it some style. No doubt the gay community, with its fresh eyes, will do the same thing with marriage and church.
Too bad my heterosexual right to marry isn't like a ticket to a baseball game that I could just give away. I'd be happy to give it to a couple of lovesick gays or lesbians who would clean it up and make good use of it. Sure, they're good seats, but I can't use the ticket. Have you seen the crash rate on that airline?
Liz Langley is a freelance writer in New York City.