Eve Tushnet Profiled in the NYT

This seems like the sort of thing the conservatives around here would cheer for:

While gay sex should not be criminalized, [Tushnet] said, gay men and lesbians should abstain. They might instead have passionate friendships, or sublimate their urges into other pursuits. “It turns out I happen to be very good at sublimating,” she says, while acknowledging that that is a lot to ask of others.

[S]ame-sex marriage, she wrote in The New York Post in 2007, “can bring one of three outcomes: A two-tiered marriage culture, where heterosexual couples are asked to do the hard things (sex only within marriage, marriage for life in most circumstances) and homosexual couples work out their own marriage norms; reshape marriage into an optional, individualized institution, ignoring the creative and destructive potentials of ‘straight’ sex; or encourage all couples to restrict sex to marriage and marry for life, and hope that gay couples accept norms designed to meet heterosexual needs.”

I wouldn’t cheer, mind you. My sense is that Tushnet doesn’t know as much as she thinks about either gay or straight marriages. Plenty of the latter are open, and at least some of the former are not. The two are more alike than she realizes or cares to admit.

As to reshaping marriage, that boat sailed a long time ago, possibly with the development of the pill. We can’t “ignore” the creative potentials of straight sex, but we can definitely sidestep them if we’re careful. Or we can — both gay and straight — face such responsibilities as adults. Growing up is hard. But we do it anyway.

Without wanting to gross anyone out, I will just say this. Having sex with my husband remains one of the most important, affirming, and beautiful experiences in my life. It is the culmination of everything else that we have built in our more than ten years together. I know it’s hard to understand. So is your intimate life, from where I sit. Life is a mystery. Frankly, I hope you have it as good as I do with the one you love. It won’t necessarily last a lifetime, I know, but when we’re old and wrinkly and have totally lost interest, I hope we’ll still sit around and remember, which will be fantastic too.

It’s great if your religion tells you to give up sex, and if you find something personally fulfilling in that. But what precisely that means about my life — and about the laws of our country — I have never been able to fathom.

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13 thoughts on “Eve Tushnet Profiled in the NYT

  1. I’ve been reading Tushnet for a while, and my sense is that, while she’s often deliberately eccentric, she is drawing attention to parts of the Catholic tradition that may be of some help to devout Catholics (or other Christians) who aren’t straight, and that the public-policy stuff is of secondary importance in her work. But if you’re not Catholic, it might not be for you.

    This part of the article is really on-point, at least as far as her writing goes:

    “[Tushnet] may befuddle others, but for her, life is joyful. She takes obvious pleasure in being an eccentric in a tradition with no shortage of odd heroes, visionaries and saints. […] ‘I really think the most important thing is, I really like being gay and I really like being Catholic,’ she says. “If nobody ever calls me self-hating again, it will be too soon.’ ”

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  2. What I find puzzling/hard to get my head around is the notion that her god not only created her, and is presumably okay with her as a lesbian, but that same god does not want her to experience sexual intimacy with her preferred partner. (Full disclosure- I have not read much of Ms. Tushnet’s work, so am not clear exactly what her definition of celibate is, which one can certainly make more malleable as a lesbian than as a gay man.) Perhaps it is similar to the consecrated virgins? I am not one to judge, but it seems to me that Ms. Tushnet’s lifestyle is one that an infinitesimally small number of people might want to emulate.

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  3. when we’re old andwrinkly and have totally lost interest

    And you, sir, don’t know as much as you think about older couples. And I wish you and your husband the joy of discovering that first.hand.

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  4. As a fellow Catholic convert, I’m inspired and humbled by Tushnet’s witness. My faith has not demanded so much of me, or perhaps it has and I’ve refused to listen.

    There are obvious, real, and non-illusory goods in the intimacy and love Jason talks about. There is no use and quite a bit of mischief in denying them. From a secular perspective, it’s hard to see why one would ever give up these good things. One would have to be infected with a certain madness, one like the gospel of Christ as heard by the saints and mystics.

    But I know very little of that.

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  5. Two thoughts. First, Jason says: “Or we can — both gay and straight — face such responsibilities as adults. Growing up is hard. But we do it anyway.” Precisely. The genie is out of the bottle, the boat has sailed on both sexual mores (gay and straight) and our expectations about marriage. That’s my main point on the other thread re the Pill — we’re not going to get rid of contraception even if, for some hard to fathom reason, we might want to. It both gives us the freedom and requires us to learn to act responsibly. So those who are distressed by the cultural ramifications of the Pill, or the growing acceptance of homosexuals in committed partnerships, should focus on helping people make grown up choices. Don’t just mourn for a Golden Age (that never was) or condemn people who are trying to be morally responsible adults.

    Second, Tushnet rather ingenuously omits what seems to me to be the most obvious shift in marriage patterns over the past several decades, and one which has some features to recommend it. That’s “serial monogamy”, which is something quite different from her Door No. 2: “reshape marriage into an optional, individualized institution, ignoring the creative and destructive potentials of ‘straight’ sex”.

    Let’s set aside the “when I’m 64” and “trophy wives” problem about keeping the physical passion alive. After decades of marriage, it’s a small miracle if a couple has grown together so the people they have become remain emotionally compatible — that they are still each other’s most important person with whom they want to spend their leisure hours and continue to build a life. That’s true especially after children have flown the coup. Society appears to have started to acknowledge that committed relationships aren’t failures if they don’t manage to last forever. And I think that’s a healthy thing.

    I would expect that when we adopt SSM as a legal option and it becomes commonplace, we’ll see the same sort of pattern emerge with homosexual couples: strongly committed couples who may not turn out to be life-long partners. And there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that.

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