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06 July 2014
Feminists and progressives like to remind women that they don’t need a man. Their mantra is, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." The message, put simply, is that a human being is whole, is complete in and of her own person; she needs no one to complete her. There is no "other half" out there in the world who is waiting to complete her, or is in need of her in order to be complete their person. A woman can have a full and fulfilling life without being partnered with another person. She has her career, her home, her friends, her activities, and those make for a full life. If she wants, she can raise a child without a mate as well. Friends and other family are there, hopefully, to step in and help.
I believe this is true. For centuries society and religion taught women that their roles were limited to wife and mother, and that they found their completeness only within the bond of marriage. (And it’s no coincidence that “bond” was used for both marriage relationships and relationships of ownership, such as slavery or indentured servitude.) Religions even promoted the idea of "soul mate" to mythologize the bondage of marriage: the idea that God created souls, split them in half, and sent the halves out into the world into individual human beings, who are then driven to wander around until they find their other halves. Religions and societies promoted this idea in order to keep the institution of marriage, which was fundamentally about possession and economic exchange, going. They would tolerate fundamentally unhappy marriages or even spousal rape and abuse in order to preserve the institution. Women and men were essentially incomplete without being pair-bonded, even if some men could get away with being single if they were priests or explorers.
With the rise of feminism, we did away with this ideal. Human beings are complete in and of themselves. They are not half-souls wandering around the world looking for their other halves. We are all a little damaged: that’s what life does to us. But that doesn’t mean we’re broken beings until we manage to find someone to "complete" us. If and when we pair up, the relationship is formed out of our essential completeness. We may be well matched, and many people stay together for the rest of their lives. But that’s not because they’ve found their other halves. The two individuals involved were complete before the relationship started, and remain complete within it.
We tell this to women because it’s true, and because we want them to know their own essential strength as human beings. We wish well for them in society, and we know that people who spend their strength in longing for a mate are not spending their strength on themselves, on their careers, or on the world around them. We know that loneliness is a problem in life, but we also know that people who are paired with a mate still experience loneliness. It’s painful, but it, like all other pleasures and pains, passes over time. We tell women that we hope they realize their essential completeness, and that whether or not they find of relationship, it’s optional to their happiness and meaning in life. They can be complete, fulfilled and content as single people.
We tell this to women because it’s true. So why do we tell gay men the exact opposite? The emphasis for women in progressive society is to realize their completeness and to be strong. The emphasis for gay men is to find a mate and get married. All our focus as a gay community has been on partnering and marriage. Our message has become that one isn’t really a mature gay man until he has found a mate, gotten married and formed a family. Marriage and family for gay men are now seen as the hallmarks of maturity in gay men; without them a gay man is seen as stuck in adolescence, permanently self-crippled.
Why do we tell this to gay men, when we tell women the opposite? I think it’s due to this: the gay community reacted to the accusations of straight society that we were immature hedonists incapable of being a positive contribution to society. I think that’s why our first pushes for equality in the US were to be able to serve openly in the military and to be able to get married. Even housing and employment protections were secondary to seeking these rights.
And we are winning. Marriage equality is spreading through the country. Marriage equality has already come to several countries around the world. The wedding-industrial complex is salivating in anticipation of the flood of gay dollars coming into their coffers. After all, gays are seen as doing everything with great splash and elaboration, so we are bound to spend excessive amounts of money on our weddings, right?
This emphasis on marriage has led to redefining what it means to be an adult in the gay world. We aren’t considered mature until we’ve pursued marriage. If we’re single, we’re seen as not getting with the program; and that failure simply must be due to the stubborn willfulness of an extended adolescence. Single gay men are viewed as immature, incomplete. And so we tell gay men the exact opposite of what we tell women. Women don’t need a soul mate to be fulfilled. Gay men must have one in order not to be immature.
This, of course, is bullshit. Why is a woman viewed as a complete human being whether or not she is in a relationship, but a gay man is seen as fundamentally broken if he is single, especially if he is not looking? Are women and gay men from different species? Is one group human and the other not? Of course not! What has happened is that yet again, the gay community has let the larger society dictate our values to us. We reacted to their accusations of instability and immaturity by going overboard in emphasizing marriage and partnering as evidence of our maturity. Instead of being secure in ourselves, we let society dictate the terms of the debate, and then set out to prove them wrong by over-emphasizing their traditional values. This is foolishness on a community-wide scale.
So, let me be plain: if it is a human value for women, it’s a human value for gay men, too. A gay man needs no soul mate. A gay man in complete in and of himself. A gay man can be fulfilled– can have a meaningful life– while single. He doesn’t need to establish a family to be of worth to society. Singleness for a gay man is just as valuable as singleness for a woman. Human beings, female or male, gay or straight, are not half souls wandering around looking for their other halves. We are complete in and of ourselves. We need no one else to save us.