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A recent New York Times article by Katy Butler decribes so-called “Brokeback marriages,” citing a 1990 study called The Social Organization of Sexuality that suggests two to four percent of married American women had knowingly or unknowingly been in what are now called “mixed-orientation” marriages.
    Butler says, “On the whole these are not marriages of convenience or cynical efforts to create cover,” but continues, “Gay and bisexual men continue to marry for complex reasons, many impelled not only by discrimination, but also by wishful thinking, the layered ambiguities of sexual love and authentic affection.”
    While Butler can be given credit for seizing the cultural moment and writing a trendy article about the “Brokeback of today,” the pervasive cultural bias one encounters when discussing non-traditional relationships — becomes glaringly evident.
    The article revolves around a Lifetime Channel scenario, in which all women are victims of men &#8212 either consciously conniving men or men too weak or cowardly to know themselves.

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It is also fundamentally sexist. You would never see such a story written about men who marry lesbians and the havoc that wreaks on their sense of masculinity, safety, commitment and trust.
    Such articles enforce rigid codes of conventional American masculinity, envisioning non-traditional masculinity as a threat or trick. Of course, women’s sexual freedom is curtailed by the same impulse: it’s simply not taken seriously — no real straight man would have a problem with a lesbian wife, he’d just invite the girlfriend over for a three-way!
    The year the referenced study was done, 1990, was a long time ago. The world has changed a lot since then, but in many ways it hasn’t changed at all. I recently began work on an article for Nerve about queer people in heteronormative relationships. I approached six “mixed orientation” couples, including a well-known director and his wife. At first, several of the couples were interested in speaking. They wanted to clear up misconceptions, talk back to the people who say such marriages couldn’t possibly be valid.

The article revolves around a Lifetime Channel scenario, in which all women are victims of men.


   But as the interviews drew closer, each couple got nervous and, one by one, decided not to participate. They claimed it was because the risk of public exposure would subject their relationships to unwelcome scrutiny. They also feared the prejudice of people who had previously taken these relationships at face value, and didn’t want to expose family members and children to uncomfortable questions.
    These people are not in “Brokeback marriages.” They are simply people who are open with each other about their sexually diverse pasts and desires who choose to be together. They stand as living contradictions to the general perception of mixed-orientation marriage as fraud or cynical compromise.
   For now, it’s easier and safer for these couples to be honest and open with close friends while remaining publicly discreet. But one day, hopefully, “mixed orientation” marriages will be no more controversial than mixed-race or mixed-religion marriages — and the people in them will feel free to discuss their experiences openly, without fear.
 


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©2006 Andy Horwitz and Nerve.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
  Andy Horwitz is a writer and performer living in New York City. His monologues have been called everything from "high-octane, raucous comedy" to "inquisitive and insightful." His writing has appeared in Heeb, The Seattle Stranger and various anthologies. He edits the alternative performance blog Culturebot.org and in 2005 ran for Mayor of New York City, a performance project documented online at andyformayor.org.