by Jim Piechota
Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity, edited by Carter Sickels; Ooligan Press, $16.95
As the United States Supreme Court nears its pivotal decision this summer to resolve the debate on gay marriage, tensions are running high and opposition to a supportive outcome has reached ludicrous proportions. Among the sensationalized, doomsaying news articles punctuating our Twitter and Facebook feeds, thankfully there is proactive, beneficial reading material on the subject: Untangling the Knot, award-winning Portland author Carter Sickels' just-released collection of essays on the nature of love, same-sex relationships, and the golden egg of gay matrimony.
"I believe queers can still queer marriage, turn it into something new, glittering with possibility," Sickels writes. The 25 contributors in his compilation attest to this, and display their desires, fears, concerns, and joys in diverse ways, each addressing the issues confronted when marriage is actually achieved and the real work begins. Here in these pages, the opinions are raw and unflinching in their honesty, each a breath of fresh air within a hotly contested debate that, for many, has become claustrophobic.
Portland educator Ben Anderson-Nathe opens with a meditation on the need to view same-sex marriage as unique from traditional marriage, and the dangers of lumping all marriages together as one. "Marriage equality is not a victory, not even an initial one," he writes, "if it comes at the expense of other queer families, my own included, which are deliberately and deliciously not like everyone else's."
Emanuel Xavier addresses the poverty and homelessness within the gay community through a short, personal timeline of his life as a formerly indigent youth and hustler at the West Side Highway piers in New York City in the late 1980s, where "my only concerns at the time were a comfortable place to sleep at night, some money to buy food, and the fear of getting AIDS or being killed by a trick."
Oakland author Ariel Gore, whose frank memoir The End of Eve stunned readers in 2014, reflects on her days in the mid-1990s, when "it wasn't safe to come out if you had an ongoing case in family court." Her identity as a lesbian was on the back burner as well, with her priorities placed elsewhere. "Mostly I wanted to identify as someone who could pay her rent and keep the electricity on all month." Marriage changed her feelings on those sentiments in drastic ways.
Authors Chelsia Rice and Meg Stone make separate yet equal cases for same-sex partnered medical benefits after cancer diagnoses (and recovery processes) stretched their formerly unrecognized relationships across the official boundaries of what is considered "family." A satisfying coda to both offers news that both women are now cancer-free and happily married in ceremonies that were "so much more than paperwork."
Joseph Nicolas DeFilippis argues against gay marriage being associated with other rights needed by LGBT people. His essay illustrates the possibility that gay marriage rights may limit the legal options of those seeking equal rights, but who don't desire marriage. He appeals for "an adaptable variety of legal options to protect families, queer or straight, married or not," instead of "making marriage mandatory in order to access benefits."
"There is still so much work to be done," Sickels notes, referencing pop-up state-sanctioned measures legalizing discrimination, the blatant LGBT persecution in Russia and Uganda, ongoing homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, and a host of other injustices. The voices here range from transgender partners working through inconsistencies in acceptance to religious writers reflecting on the disharmony of their desires. Sickels' creative and often eye-opening compilation provides timely and relevant education on the current fight for LGBT equality.