Such a triumphant moment for eschewing convention was hard to envision even a decade ago, when Lindsay King-Miller was a queer teenager who assumed she’d never be able to get married. Now – thanks to a series of small legal victories and one giant Supreme Court decision – she’s a married mom, with her genderqueer partner as the gestational parent. She even teaches at her old high school, where she’s encountering a generation not that much younger, but much more open about differing sexualities and gender expressions. King-Miller has spent much of the last few years penning her popular online advice column for sites like The Hairpin and Fusion. (A recent installment: “Can I call myself ‘queer’ if I’ve never been with another woman?”).
King-Miller’s book, which grew out of that column, is aimed at younger readers who are worried more about navigating crushes and bisexual stigma than being excluded from marriage. “The landscape has changed so much in such a short period of time that people don’t feel like they have a roadmap,” she says. “There are role models in terms of LGBT adults who have done amazing things, but it’s such a changing world that the things those role models went through and the things you’re going through today are different.” Now that she’s tackled some of the building blocks of finding an identity and happiness, King-Miller hopes, in the future, to write about queer parenting and family-building, an area where there’s a gaping hole in advice literature.
Around the same time as King-Miller was a teenager in Colorado, frustrated bride-to-be Keene founded A Practical Wedding as a means to help all couples planning to wed evade the wedding-industrial complex and its fraught, gendered expectations. “Years ago I was swimming upstream,” she says. “Feminism was not the buzzword that it is right now, we weren’t sure marriage equality was going to happen soon, and gender-neutral terms were not really a common thing. Fast forward eight years later to now, and instead of swimming upstream, we’re at the forefront.” Indeed, one only has to look at the surge of feminist content at glossy women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan and Glamour to see how fashion and service publications have embraced, at least in part, a new model.
Part of the power of projects like Keene’s and King-Miller’s arises from the online platforms where they launched, during a wave of Internet-based feminism that has gained momentum over the last decade. In the past several years, this sensibility has started to bleed out into the physical world, influencing everything from pop stars on Twitter to advertising campaigns, and creating a frontier where even straight people use the term “my partner.”
And yet, less has changed about the way we see dating, marriage, and childbearing than this shift might suggest. “There’s an inconsistency between the new rhetoric of liberation which says we can have whatever we want and structure our lives however we want to, and the broader economy based on heterosexual, heteronormative marriage,” says Samhita Mukhopadhyay, an editor at Mic, former editor of Feministing, and author of 2011’s Outdated: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life. “All your friends still get married,” she says. “But they’re getting married later.”
Like King-Miller and Keene, Mukhopadhyay’s writing about dating has sought to provide an antidote to persistently sexist and lopsided contemporary advice-giving. And she notes that laws around immigration, adoption, and other rights that enable people to form their own units of partnership still lag behind where they should be for our supposedly enlightened age.
Meanwhile, Keene is somewhat suspicious of how much the wedding industry is actually opening itself up and becoming more liberal. “The weddings presented by the industry are still so, literally, monochromatic,” she says. “White, upper-middle class, and homogenized.” (Even Keene’s own book, A Practical Wedding Planner , features a generic white lady with long fingers and luscious lips on the cover, it should be noted — though Keene noted it consciously avoids portraying a straight couple).
In most communities away from the Internet and liberal enclaves, families or individuals who deviate from the mom, dad, and picket-fence norm are still isolated, only given a chance at “belonging” when they pass for something more predictable. Maggie Nelson writes about how her family looked straight one night, allowing them to connect with others: “You pass as a guy; I, as pregnant. Our waiter cheerfully tells us about his family, expresses delight in ours,” she writes of her genderqueer partner and herself. But their gender expression, she feels, hides the essential truth of their humanity:“On the inside, we were two human animals undergoing transformations beside each other, bearing each other loose witness.”
We have come a long way in allowing families to be like Nelson’s rather than just passing for straight once in a while. We’ve still got a long way to go, though, before we reach the point where we acknowledge that each little cluster of “human animals” is part of a larger group but also entirely unique — and deserves to be treated as such.