“If you are single, after graduation there isn’t one occasion where people celebrate you,” the fictional character Carrie Bradshaw, a writer, said in the HBO series “Sex and the City.”
Some years later, with the movie “Sex and the City 2″ playing nationwide and Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, an unmarried woman, slated to start June 28, I think to myself, Carrie really nailed what life’s often like if you’re single. Whether you’re straight or queer, your friends and family won’t throw a party or drink a toast to send you off on a long and happy single life. Forget the un-bridal gift registry. If you want presents, you’ll have to follow in Carrie’s footsteps, and, as she did in an episode of SATC, start a registry for yourself.
As in the case of Kagan, if you’re unmarried, (particularly, if you’re over 40), people will question your sexual orientation. Though unmarried (or uncoupled) women may face these questions more often, rumors still swirl around single men (take the speculation about retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s sexual orientation).
As a single lesbian, I feel for not only Kagan, Carrie and Souter, but for all, whether famous or unknown, straight or LGBTQ, who are unmarried or uncoupled. Why do I feel this bond? Because often, both the culture at large and the queer community, devalue single people.
I don’t mean to paint the dividing line between the single and the unmarried with too wide a brush or to dismiss the joys of marriage. I have straight and LGBTQ friends who are both coupled and uncoupled. My late partner Anne and I would have gotten married if we could have. We, who are queer, won’t have achieved equality until same-sex marriage is a legal right. Having enjoyed relationships, if the right woman came along, I’d think seriously about re-partnering. No question about it. When things are going well, love and marriage can, as the Frank Sinatra song says, “go together like a horse and carriage.”
But not everyone wants to be a partner or to marry. Some folks, whether straight or LGBTQ, choose for part or all of their lives to be single. Others are single due to circumstances such as the death of a spouse. Either way, we’re still part of the community – a member of the same species as the coupled and married. You’d think people, queer and straight, would get this. Yet, too often, we who are single are regarded, and sometimes treated, as if we’re aliens from another planet.
Who knows if Kagan is lesbian? We won’t know if Kagan’s queer, unless she herself says what her sexual orientation is. But it’s a safe bet that her sexuality is up for discussion because she’s single. Whatever her orientation, I hope that if Kagan is confirmed, she’ll rule in favor of LGBTQ people when cases involving same-sex marriage come before the Supreme Court. This having been said though, I can’t help but wonder: has the sexual orientation of any married Supreme Court nominee been questioned during his or her confirmation hearings? (I’m not speaking here of Justice Clarence Thoma, as the issue of sexual harassment was involved during his confirmation process.)
The speculation around Kagan mirrors the stereotypical assumptions that many, hetero and queer, have about single people. These misperceptions run the gamut from thinking we’re hyper-sexed narcissists to believing that we’re a-sexual workaholics. Granted, there’s often a nugget of truth in stereotypes. Undoubtedly, some uncoupled folk are over-sexed, over-worked or self-absorbed. But most of us are no more horny, narcissistic or career-oriented than our coupled peers.
Historically, the queer community has been a place where you could feel at home if you weren’t part of a couple. Single people, often treated as outsiders in the straight world, were respected in gay life. But, in the push for same-sex marriage equality, too frequently, we’re being metaphorically seated at the “children’s table.”
Unlike Carrie, I don’t want to set up a registry for myself. (I couldn’t walk in Manolo Blahniks.) I’ve no desire to impede the fight for same-sex marriage. I only hope that single people will be given a place at the adult table.
Kathi Wolfe is a local writer, poet and regular contributor to the Blade. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.