I have always had something of a knack for talking my way out of answering difficult questions. My first instinct when asked something mildly taxing is to cause a diversion or commit the most egregious of sins and answer the question with another question. But now my luck is running out.
Thanks to all these rights coming the gay community’s way, I’m running out of excuses for why I don’t want to get married or have children. You think you bigots are inconvenienced? You don’t even know the half of it – wind your neck in.
Before, in the bad old days, when gay people were oppressed and bullied and abused and generally treated by the rest of the world as if they were something that had been stepped in and trodden all over mother’s brand new beige carpet, it was very easy to dismiss marriage or fatherhood.
Those sacred landmarks, the rites of passage available to heterosexuals, were out of reach for me. Not for me an emotional proposal (perhaps in a McDonald’s or on a weekend away in Filey), followed by an excruciating engagement party in a working men’s club. Oh no.
Never would I feel the joy of saving every last penny to be able to afford to watch someone I will probably end up detesting in a decade walk up the aisle in a church belonging to a God I don’t believe in, before a gaudy reception in a country house that wouldn’t have let me and my significant other over the threshold were we not brandishing endless wads of wedding dollar. It could only ever be a hypothesis, a vague dream.
And I could, quite easily, pretend to be sad this route was closed to me, that the best milestone I could hope to achieve with any potential partner would be buying an antiques shop or perhaps sponsoring an orphan via postal order.
“Well, of course, you straight people are so lucky,” I would say misty-eyed, giving my Earl Grey another wistful stir, “but I will never be able to experience all that – because I’m gay!”
Pretending I really wanted to get married, but couldn’t because of beastly society, was the only way I could hide my utter lack of interest in the whole institution.
I don’t know why I don’t want to get married; I just don’t. Whether it’s because a failed marriage sounds much more scarring than a broken relationship, or I’d die of embarrassment at having to bring lots of people together to homage to me, I’m not sure, but the concept has never appealed. And so I was kind of grateful – in the most twisted and selfish of ways of course – that I had the perfect excuse.
And then, in 2004, civil partnerships arrived. My first thought? “This is amazing; I am so pleased for all those people out there who have waited so long to have their union recognised in law. What a red-letter day. We are well on our way to equality!” My second thought? “Shit.”
As I watched friends excitedly propose to each other and plan beautiful, tasteful ceremonies, I began to realise that soon the all-seeing lens of conformity would soon fall upon me. I would become that trembling, ageing spinster at a dinner party full of couples.
Cornering my then-boyfriend and me at parties, people would ask “So when are you two going to get hitched, then?” When all my heterosexual friends ‘put a ring on it’ and began to think about reproducing, I could just about handle it – it’s what they were supposed to do, of course. But now all my gay friends were going for it too.
So why wasn’t I? Isn’t this what I’d been waiting for all along? As I watched the penultimate lifeboat leave the Titanic, I suddenly found my rescue. “But it isn’t really marriage, not to me,” I would say, like some idiot teenager on Question Time. “Until we’re totally equal, I don’t see the point.”
And so, while my tormentors were bemused and disappointed, they had to be satisfied with that. And so was I, my marriage-avoiding core hidden away with a dismissive and dishonest excuse. For another few years, at least.
I have always said I never wanted children and, again, I had a pretty good get-out clause with gay adoption being scarce and society wagging its finger at other options like surrogacy or other arrangements or partnerships involving gay parents and the opposite sex. Now, however, everybody is doing it.
Our playgrounds are filling up with all these amazing children with varied, exciting (to me) backgrounds which to them are just ‘normal’ and ‘whatever’.
We are creating a new society and teaching tolerance through nature and nurture. I couldn’t be happier. But of course, I do have to bring everything back to me and, well, this puts me in a very difficult position. I like children, especially my friends’ children, but, oh, I really don’t want one. I don’t. Honestly.
This huge opportunity is now available to me, ending years of oppression, but it is utterly wasted on me. I can’t answer the question “So, do you think you’ll have children?” without sounding hugely selfish and hedonistic. “Oh, well, I quite like my life the way it is, really.” Parents back away from me so fast, the wheels on their Bugaboo whirr with enough power for take-off.
And now, here we go again. Gay marriage is an actual thing. And I’m glad, truly I am. I can’t wait to hear about all these weddings and I am so happy that finally gay relationships get the recognition they deserve. You GO, guys and gals.
But spare a thought for those of us who want to stay this side of the wedding vows. I am 100% FOR gay marriage, but, I am absolutely sure, it is 100% NOT for me.
It feels wrong, somehow, to have all these rights – like I’ve been given an extra vote or a spare lung – and have no desire to exercise them. Am I wasteful? And explaining why I don’t want to is difficult.
But I suppose the real right that has been afforded me is the right to decide whether I want to or not. I have been presented with the option, which feels marvellous and empowering. It feels even more exhilarating to have the freedom to say “Thanks for the progress – but I’ll have to pass”.
So please don’t feel sorry for me or tell me it might one day happen for me if I’m very, very lucky. I’m perfectly happy up here on this shelf of my own construction. Sorry, Prince Charming; it’s going to have to be a no.