Editor’s Note: QUEERING MARRIAGE is the concluding essay documenting the long-table process around Kyoung’s Pacific Beat’s production of PILLOWTALK at the Tank. You can read about the previous conversations here and here.
I have the privilege of sharing out PILLOWTALK’s third, and final long-table, addressing “Love’s Power & Microinvisibility,” which was discussed by performance artist Nic Kay, writer/performer/cultural worker Kirya Trabor, and facilitated by Prof. Stephanie Hsu—Board Member of CUNY’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies. This conversation felt like a summary of a month-long conversation hosted by Kyoung’s Pacific Beat at The Tank, and the conclusion of our multi-yeared engagement with QPOC communities throughout the creation of PILLOWTALK.
“How did you get in my living room?” asked Kirya Trabor, which is a question we’ve often heard from our audience members. Whether queer, straight, Asian, Black, Latinx, White, Jewish, single, partnered, married, or divorced, we knew from our project’s initial responses that our very queer, POC characters were dealing with love and marriage in ways that tapped into universal questions. “I’m engaged with the core argument: love versus marriage,” shared Kirya. “Is marriage about pragmatism and survival? Is love the fearless embrace of the revolution?”
In a two-character play where Sam (Basit Shittu) and Buck (JP Moraga), two married queer men of color, go long into the night, Nic shares how what sticks with them is “when words don’t work anymore” and PILLOWTALK becomes a dance. “Queerness is hearing your body,” adds Stephanie. “The body can’t lie.”
James McMaster, one of our audience members, joins the speakers on-stage and states how he was struck by Bucks’ recognition that “marriage makes your problems private”—marriage becomes a survival tactic that encloses your problems at home.
“Is marriage destructive to the revolutionary tendency?” asks Kirya. Has gay marriage provided the LGBQT community with an opportunity for assimilation, when there is a potential to change marriage? Is there a way to use marriage both as a political cover for our Otheress, while normalizing and protecting oneself?
Nic points out how “queer radical spaces” are meant to provide safety—from the urgent need to provide homes for queer youth, those abandoned due to HIV, to creating relationships that go beyond the gender binary. How do we destabilize the normativity of “marriage” and recognize polyamory, open relationships, and complex family structures? Later in the discussion, Nic would further these questions by reminding us that “we have survived ancestrally through community, feeling love outside the system… It was fun to not look for the one relationship to fulfill all your needs.”
As the conversation continued, two women in the process of divorcing shared with us their experiences of marriage. One woman said: “marriage was not rooted in love.” It was about God, taxes, insurance. Marriage became both a contract and a covenant. The second woman added how her marriage was with her partner/ artistic collaborator/ best friend/ business partner, and how their marriage was about “all the contracts.” While she refused to marry at first—she said no three times—she began asking herself: “how did I end up in this cis heteronormative arrangement? I didn’t believe in marriage until I committed, then everything shifted.” And now that she was divorcing, society says: “I failed.”
The first woman later shared more about her interracial marriage, which was also polyamorous and open to co-parenting. All the conversations held in the long-table, and in PILLOWTALK, were ongoing in her life, but her White husband would become exhausted by these conversations and ask: “do I need to think about race/gender all the time?”
The exhaustion of White partners who cannot engage in these conversations has been a complaint we’ve personally heard from multiple members of our artistic community and audiences, and we are reminded of how the White experience becomes the default in interracial relationships, and White Supremacy becomes the invisible power structure that debilitates queer, interracial relationships.
“As a person of color,” adds Nic, “to love another person of color is to love myself. This is the most revolutionary work when we were meant to be objects and labor. How do we build relationships beyond sexual desire, when we were trained to be shallow objects?”
“When we are harassed in public, I cannot experience the same thing at home,” adds Stephanie. “Marriage can be a healing refuge from the environment I live in, if we are politically aligned. I need to be able to talk to you. That’s heaven for folks of color.”
“Here we are, starting our own family,” adds Shannon Matesky. When she witnesses the characters of Sam and Buck considering divorce, she wishes she could tell them: “Don’t let those white people break you up! Freak the form, queer the family model! Divorce is the death of a portion of your life, be reborn.”
“Why do people get married?” asks Daniel Lim, my husband, who has been at all three long-tables. “Where is this model in nature? Is marriage in nature? Monogamy is in birds—married people are birds,” he states. “Humans, primates, are not good for marriage, it’s not biological.”
And because PILLOWTALK was born from our bed talk, before it became a public talk, I let my #radicallove have the final words: “How do you expand marriage? Not queer marriage for myself, but for everyone? How do we queer the way we live, the way society is arranged? Be anti-nuclear family, embrace co-parenting, co-housing? Queerness is upending the social order for everyone.”