Same-Sex Marriage, Part I

“I Cannot Breed in Captivity” ~ Gloria Steinem

At the beginning of May, the British Columbia Supreme Court overturned a previous ruling by an appeals court regarding same sex marriage restrictions. The unanimous decision echoes those of the Supreme Courts of both Ontario and Quebec. Effectively, this means that all of us can choose to marry if we wish, regardless of gender or orientation. This victory for civil rights is not a fait a compli. The Supreme Court of Canada has a year to consider this decision and uphold or overturn it. Still, this third ‘yes’ vote signifies a powerful advance toward inclusion.

There are many who endorse Ms. Steinem’s sentiments regarding the institution of marriage and scratch their heads at why this is an issue at all. After all, marriage is a relatively new concept, only a few hundred years old, and designed to protect the inheritance trail of wealthy landowners; romance and love had little to do with it. The original reasons for marriage have long since deteriorated and been transformed into a social statement of love and commitment. Our government offers tax incentives to those who choose to sign on, and community property legislations offer some protection for wives and children. Even so, marriage is now a business (a multi-million dollar business!) and a social tradition that endures despite the objections raised by feminists during the sexual revolution of the sixties and an ever-growing acceptance of living together without benefit of legal approval.

For those who long to make public their mutual dreams of life together, this legislation validates their wishes. No longer denied the rights of others, gays and lesbians can soon choose whether to marry. This marks another important step away from the shame and fear associated with being inside the closet and outside the realm of acceptability. Surely, this is reason to celebrate!

Love is difficult to find and even more so to sustain and nurture. Lesbians and gays know full well the lack of social supports others enjoy in enduring the inevitable strains of living together. This legislation will provide an important link to community backing. It will, as well, protect children and guarantee the rights and responsibilities heretofore taken for granted by heterosexuals. No longer must couples fear losing property to obscure blood relatives, or worry about how medical staff will respond to a mate’s directives about life-threatening crises. In other words, lesbians and gays will be treated pretty much like everyone else.

Religious adherents and other conservative thinkers will object to this legislation. We must weigh their arguments about the perceived threat to the family, and eventually we will need to redefine the term. ‘Family’ will come to mean those who love and protect one another, who support and nourish their bond, and who identify as a small group within a larger community. Come to think of it, isn’t that already a working definition? Let’s embrace all those who come together in love and kindness, companionship and care, and welcome everyone who chooses to celebrate publicly such society-sustaining values.

Kudos to our courts! The law often lags much farther behind in reflecting society’s values. Truly, this decision signals a reason for all of us to be proud, regardless of the gender of the people we love.

Talking to Youth About Sex: What’s Enough? What’s Too Much?

– Originally published on

North Americans embrace the ideal of providing children with carefree childhoods ripe with opportunities for growth and expression. Fortunate to hold much of the world’s wealth and natural resources, we are commonly able to meet this laudable goal. We promote education and enforce laws against child labour. We enrich our children’s lives with car pool service, birthday parties, and extracurricular activities. We encourage our leaders of tomorrow, supporting their growth into adulthood untarnished by the harsher realities of the world. Few would argue the wisdom of such a philosophy. We know that children raised in an environment of safety, security, and happiness grow into well-balanced, self-actualizing adults. We are richer personally and culturally for providing fertile earth in which to grow our children to adulthood.

We ensure this unworried childhood by shielding our young from the cares and responsibilities of the adult domain. David Steinberg, editor of The Erotic Impulse, uses the term “designated innocents” to refer to this protected class of junior citizens. The problem with remaining innocent, he argues, is that innocence can become confused with ignorance. Knowledge equates with power, so we must strike a balance between protection and education.

This dilemma is enacted in our approach to imparting sexual information. Hoping to spare our adolescent population the responsibilities of unintended parenting, we filter the knowledge afforded them. We warn them of the consequences of intercourse, and the admonitions usually broaden to include all sexual behaviour. Our protection is well intended, but poorly aimed. It is with comprehensive understanding that we are best prepared to make personally enriching decisions, not by remaining fearful and ignorant. Our alarming teen pregnancy rate is one indication that lack of information does not serve our common good, another is the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases among our youth.

How can we balance the twin goals of innocence and enlightenment? We can begin by demystifying the subject of sexuality. If we encourage our toddlers to feel pride and delight in their bodies, they will be less likely to tolerate inappropriate touching. If we provide accurate, non-judgemental information to our preteens about their maturing bodies, they will better understand the confusing and overwhelming emotions that accompany the physical changes of adolescence. They will have learned that adults tell the truth and provide protection, and thus will turn to their elders for guidance through the turbulence of sexual awakening. Armed with knowledge about the workings of their bodies and faith in their parents’ good intentions, they are better able to weigh Nature’s urgent invitations against the potential consequences.

One of the problems with consequence-only information is that teens soon realize how good sex feels. If they have been warned about the “badness” of sex, they feel duped when they discover the delights of arousal,
inclusion, and intimacy. It is especially now that they need education about the rapturous and bonding emotional aspects of sexuality. Without this knowledge, they are left hormone-driven and bereft of social skills, believing that sex equals intercourse. By telling them “no” rather than “how”, we deny them the very information they need to explore their bodies and their awkward interpersonal relationships in a safer manner. They need to know about caressing and kissing and fondling. We owe them information about how to negotiate, how to judge the difference between what we want and what we need, how to establish and maintain respectful, enduring relationships. We need to be expansive in teaching our children about sex so that they are prepared to meet challenges and opportunities with a strong sense of self and respect for others.

This is, surely, a tall order. We must first address our own ignorance, bashfulness, and shame about sexuality. It would be helpful, too, if we were part of an enriched and enriching union (and society!) that supports respect, intimacy, and honest communication. And of course we must learn to establish the kind of truthful relationship with our children that fosters dialogue. Utopian? Not at all. Difficult? You bet. Worthwhile? Indeed.

Intergenerational Strife

You are torn. Of course you want your family’s approval. You hear such platitudes as “Blood is thicker than water” or “You get only one mother.” You listen to your family’s concerns, weigh their arguments fairly (unless you are still in the throes of limerence, in which case you are deaf, dumb, blind, and stupid and should refer to this article in another year or so), and reassess your new partner’s strengths and vulnerabilities. Eventually, you make a choice. Regardless, you continue to massage and foster the interaction between the family you love and the mate you’ve chosen.

In most cases, when parents see that their children are truly content, they relax whatever objections they had. Hearts soften and observations of a happy relationship override prejudicial hostilities. Time heals rifts that previously looked unbridgeable. But what if that is not the case?

What if your family pulls the loyalty card and demands your allegiance? What if they label your mate as the cause of their unhappiness? What do you do if you’re caught between your family of origin and your family of choice? No one envies this position, but for many it is a painful reality. Now we must muster our best negotiating skills, foster all parties’ best behaviour, and forgive what we may view as petty complaints.

However, when your family refuses to honour your choice of life mate, you are the only one who can decide what to do. Each of us knows deep in our hearts if we are truly happy in our relationship. Good partnerships are rare, built with attention to detail, openheartedness, and honest communication. If you are wise and lucky enough to have landed a good one, take stock of what is on the line. If your family of origin demands you choose between your mate or them, you might have to do just that.

This is sometimes an unfortunate and unfair cost of attaining adulthood. If you cannot redirect the control issues inherent in this sort of argument, you may have to pay the enormous toll of losing an original family home to establish a chosen one. Try to maintain some cordial contact so that either side has the option of backing down while saving face. It is a tightrope dance, and one we hope never to have to perform. Still, parents normally do not reject their children unless they really believe they are doomed, and children do not rebuff their original families until every other alternative has been exhausted. Assess your situation critically and fearlessly, and, if you are sure your mate choice best suits your needs, defend it valiantly. Keep your primary relationship unassailable. Your mate, your children, and hopefully even your disapproving parents will admire your conviction and devotion. Build as many bridges as possible, but refuse to sacrifice your adult love for parental approval. Hopefully, this will be the most difficult decision you ever have to make. Optimistically, both you and your parents will eventually accept that you made the correct one.

This column would be incomplete without a word to the parents caught in this struggle. It is important for you to remember that you ultimately have no choice in the matter of your children’s choice of mates. If you raised your kids to think for themselves, you must support their decisions and not burden them with your negative thoughts. Holding your tongue may well be the best choice, unless you have evidence of real harm. Remember, the time you have for turning your children into the people you want them to be ends when they leave home. That’s all the time you get. After that, your job is to accept, support, and nourish your adult children’s choices.

Intergenerational difficulties are heartbreaking. Do all you can to mend, heal, and foster a supportive environment. If you believe that the relationship is toxic, you may have to choose. Everyone can’t win all the time. Sometimes cutting your losses is the only way to save yourself.

Shouter or Sulker? How Do You Experience Anger?

shouting coupleTry as we might to keep our emotions in check, we invariable get irritated and sometimes succumb to expressions of anger. Just as we are wired from birth with our particular temperaments and personalities, so do we display our individuality in our anger styles. We learn these as children, watching our elders deal with difficult situations. We can usually, for instance, recall Mom’s and Dad’s modes. In fact, we probably knew them well enough to manipulate them to our best advantage, or at least, we learned when to get out of the way!

People are defined by two distinct and diverse anger styles, the shouters and the sulkers. Neither of these terms is completely accurate, for ‘shouters’ don’t always raise their voices, and ‘sulkers’ don’t always pout and retreat in silence, but the terms will work for our discussion, and the descriptions call to mind appropriate pictures of what goes on when the lid blows off.

Shouters appear to fill with anger and then spill over. Words spew, often accompanied with frantic hand gestures and contorted facial features. The language can be uncomplimentary and vivid. Non-shouters, or those targeted by the shouter’s anger, generally retreat into protection mode and try to sort the profanities from the messages. Those messages are often difficult to discern, and it is best to wait for the storm to subside before attempting to have a rational conversation with the shouter.

Sulkers, on the other hand, ‘lose their words’ and are struck dumb with the effort of forming a coherent thought to express. Emotions fill sulkers, choking off their ability to speak. It’s not that they are unwilling to communicate–they feel unable to do so. Sulkers need time, and often solitude, to quiet their emotions and collect their thoughts. They can then return to the scene and discuss the issue rationally. They cannot do this when heightened emotions frighten and silence them. Sulkers’ retreats are often viewed by an irate shouter as running away from the problem; shouters want to settle the issue right now! Sulkers just can’t do that.

How, then, can a shouter live harmoniously with a sulker? Understanding the different expressive styles helps, as does agreement about how to fight constructively. This negotiation must be done when no one is angry. For instance, the sulker would reassure the shouter that they will return to tackle the matter, after a cooling off period.

As to how a sulker lives with a shouter, we view the other side of the coin. The sulker needs to learn not to take the fiery outbursts personally, and optimally allow the shouter a few minutes of venting before taking leave of the scene.

For their part, shouters can agree to monitor name-calling and plate pitching in exchange for an audience that will permit angry expression for a limited period. It’s true that when the sulker returns, calmed and prepared to deal with the argument, the shouter has often moved on to other things and must be brought back to the topic. But all this is workable.

Giving our partners the respect they deserve goes a long way towards resolving the issue at hand. When shouters are granted a few minutes of angry spewing, and sulkers are afforded some time to settle down, both feel validated. This method reduces the escalation of the argument and affords both sides the focus needed to reach resolution.

What about two of one variety? What then?

When there are two shouters involved, there’s lots of noise, then often hot sex.
With two sulkers, we find lots of silence, and feelings of abandonment and futility. Without a plan about when the fighters will reconvene to hash out the problem, they often encounter lack of resolve and distance regarding sex. Indeed, sex becomes apology, often intimate and bonding, but sometimes a substitute for needed verbal communication.

Communication and respect for differences is the key to fighting fairly and respectfully. Good relationships require good communication and acceptance of differences. Anger is healthy and unavoidable. Violence, of course, is not, and we must all draw the line about what sorts of expression are acceptable, and which are not. Still, accepting our opponent’s anger style, and knowing they will accept ours, creates an environment of care and nurture. It takes practice to learn how to build the best of relationships. Fighting styles are just one more piece of the glorious puzzle that we call love.