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Note: This photographic essay originally contained multiple photos
of one gay couple's daily activities and life. As long as their
experiences were being shared with a small audience (the instructor
and other students), they were happy to have pictures taken. However,
given the stigmatization surrounding same-sex relationships and
the very real threat of violence against gays and lesbians in this
country, they were not comfortable sharing them with a larger audience.
(The U.S. government estimates that there were approximately 1700
victims hate crimes against gays and lesbians in 2000. Go to http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius_00/hate00.pdf
for more information.) Hence, only two photos are used in the essay
you see here and the men's faces hidden to protect their privacy
and safety. -Liz Grauerholz
The sociological definition of "family" has been a work-in-progress
for much of the twentieth century. Many sociologists now agree that
a family no longer needs to be a group of people bound together
by bloodline or legal (marital) ties. The increase in the prevalence
of "alternative families," such as single-parent families,
stepfamilies, same-sex couple families and other "non-traditional"
household groupings has drastically changed our understanding of
what constitutes an American family.
While it is true that all couples and families face difficulties
in living their day-to-day lives, "alternative families"
must deal with additional societal pressures. The couple comprising
the photographs in this essay has confronted issues that a "traditional"
couple (male/female couple) might expect to face as well as issues
that gay and lesbian couples contend with, issues that are unique
to the nature of their relationship. For example, gay and lesbian
individuals must decide whether or not they will come out at work
and risk potential alienation and harassment. This can sometimes
have a silencing effect, squelching the impulse to share the joys
and tribulations of one's relationship with co-workers. This is
an obstacle that most heterosexual workers don't even consider.
That gay and lesbian couples are still denied access to marriage
creates additional problems. If one member of the couple is not
a United States citizen (an international student, for example),
he or she might eventually be forced to return to his or her native
country. In a heterosexual couple, marriage confers U.S. citizenship
on any member of the union who wasn't originally a U.S. citizen.
Gay and lesbian couples are denied that right, and the many benefits
that come from being married.
Like most couples, it's difficult for Jeff and Mark to find
time to just relax and catch up on their day. As a graduate
student, Jeff spends many evenings at work. Occasionally Mark
stops by his office and takes his own work to do there.
|While there are detrimental societal pressures unique to gay
and lesbian relationships, there are also positive results of
some of these constrictions. Many gay and lesbian couples enjoy
the freedom of "defining" a family for themselves.
This allows for a more inclusive and less rigid development
of family life-including close friends (fictive kin) and other
individuals important to the makeup of a gay or lesbian couple's
family. Another positive aspect of gay and lesbian relationships
is the eradication of the notion of "separate spheres"
(unequal roles in a marriage based on gender), a problem common
to heterosexual relationships. As both members of a gay or lesbian
relationship are of the same gender, the rigid division of gender
and gender roles does not exist. In this way, gay and lesbian
relationships might be viewed as (generally) based upon egalitarian
principles that aren't always present in heterosexual relationships.
The intent of the these photographs is to show the ways in which
one gay couple have developed their own "blueprint"
for family and family life, and what it means to be "a
kitchen is tiny but Jeff and Mark enjoy cooking and eating
meals together. For the most part, they try to share the housework
but sometimes more chores fall on Mark's shoulders since Jeff
works longer hours. Although Jeff has come out to his family
and has been accepted by them, Mark has not. This creates
considerable pressure and stress on the relationship whenever
Mark's parents come to visit. Pretending to be "just
roommates" is constraining and painful and alienates
Mark from his parents. The couple has established strong bonds
with other couples within the gay community, who feel more
like family than their family of origin do.
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