Real Talk with: Dr. Carrington

July 3, 2013 in inQueery

In lecture sessions he holds at San Francisco State University, he exudes a cool confidence while presenting both facts and opinions with a matter-of-fact attitude. While some of the students are shocked, others are delighted by finding their ‘one cool instructor’ for the semester that they can tell their friends about. One of those opinions that stuck out in the minds of many was when Dr. Carrington suggested that the civil rights movement had been hijacked by the marriage movement, and if anyone disagreed, they were free to conduct their own research on the subject matter and debate the man whose study of the subject produced the book No Place Like Home. Carrington’s book discusses many facets of LBGT family life that are often overlooked including but not limited to: gender identity, housework, income discrepancies, consumer-based work, and marriage. As I sat down with him, the same presence that made itself known in lectures was present in answering the line of questions I had.


JJ: This is JJ Medina here with Dr. Carrington, author of No Place Like Home. Carrington has several publications available, but I chose to limit the focus of the questions here to pertain to No Place Like Home as it tackles hot-button issues that are currently at the forefront of U.S. public policy debates.

JJ: I’m just going to go ahead and get to the questions — so, Dr. Carrington, Christie Hammer commented that family cannot consist of a ‘fill in the blank’. Do you feel we are moving towards, or away from a society that embraces that notion?

Carrington: Well I guess the question is ‘What does fill in the blank’ mean? And what does ‘family’ mean? From my point of view, family consists of a whole set of forms of labor that people contribute and invest in other people in their lives. Everything from feeding to emotional support, cleaning up after them, engaging in social interaction with them, and helping them envision their futures. I mean there are all kinds of activities that family refers to, and if filling in the blank means that you’re using your care, your compassion, your resources, your wisdom – to take others under your wing and care for them for a duration of time, that’s exactly what we want to fill in the blanks with. I think the scientific literature makes it pretty clear that it’s those kinds of investments are what really pay off for young people, for elder people who need care, for people who are sick, it’s all about that time, that energy, that wisdom that gets invested in people regardless of where it comes from.

JJ: Ok, so in your book “No Place Like Home” you write that “Those who have put Lesbian and Gay Marriage at the forefront of the political agenda, [sorry I’m going to get right into politics], have lost their way. They have no vision of what a fair and just society entails for all lesbian and gay people. In your view, what constitutes a fair and just society for LBGT people?

Carrington: Well, I began with the sociological fact that most LBGT people will spend a majority, will spend, at least a significant if not a majority of their lifetime as single people. Like others in society, we have all kinds of patterns of serial monogamy operating in a society, and because of that fact, and in fact LBGT people are more likely to be single, it’s very important that we not lose track of all the single people in our midst, and the marriage agenda is really focused around couples. In that sense, it leaves out large numbers of folks…you know, one of my favorite quotes about marriage is that “marriage is socialism among two people”. Well, you know, I want socialism that includes everyone. So, in that sense, it’s about a broader movement for social justice. It’s about making sure that all of the people in our communities are included, and get to participate in a meaningful life. The other piece of that that I, for that whole marriage debate that for me is important, is that I think that there is a conflation of the ideas of rights happening in this, not a conflation, but a misunderstanding of the democratic tradition of rights that is happening within the marriage movement. Mostly this idea that if you are in a relationship, that then certain rights accrue to you, and they should because you are in a relationship as opposed to every person inherently deserves these rights as a matter of citizenship.

JJ: So more of a focus on individual rights.

Carrington: Yeah, absolutely.

JJ: In regards to that, do you think we are moving towards a just world regarding family and marriage?

Carrington: I think it depends…where in the globe you’re thinking about. Well I guess there are some universal social movements toward human rights. Certainly the UN has been at the forefront of thinking about that. There’s also reaches of the world in which, at least for LBGT people, things have gotten a bit rougher. In parts of Africa, particularly those of whose reaches have come under the influence of either protestant fundamentalism or Islamic fundamentalism, those parts of Europe where we’ve seen Islamic fundamentalism on the rise, have also in a sense…we’ve seen a sort of contraction of rights in those regions. But in other parts of the world I think the main story is one that has moved towards greater inclusions, greater inclusiveness over time.

JJ: You write about Gay and Lesbian families having expectations imposed upon them through marriage. What expectations do you think would be imposed on them, and do you think those are realistic?

Carrington: Well there are a lot of components to this. If we think about this in the realm of sexual behavior and sexuality, I think that there’s an expectation, particularly among the powerful elites, and I think of the Republican solicitor general who argued the case for gay marriage before the supreme court before the prop 8 case, and the DOMA case, and you know, in my view is that, I’m not really sure he’s ready to deal with the reality that many gay male couples are not sexually monogamous, nor do they have any interest in being so. So in a sense, I’m sure that many people have that as an expectation, but I don’t think that that’s going to be lived out in the way that they imagined it’s going to be. Although I do think that there’s movement in the broader society away from these rigid monogamous patterns.

JJ: So you think one of the expectations would be a change in sexual behaviors?

Carrington: Yes, I think so. In states, that would be a requirement. If you were married, say in Virginia, Virginia adopts same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples are going to come under Virginia’s adultery laws. How are they going to? That means that the division in Virginia which is a common-law state when it comes to marriage, that means that the person who is engaged in the extramarital relationship will suffer in the division of property.

JJ: Wow. In that respect, who do you think stands to gain the most if same-sex marriage is legalized, and who loses out?

Carrington: Well the benefits will come to the wealth gay and lesbian couples; mostly white, mostly male, who own property who have much to gain from shifts in taxation, from gains in pension plans, gains in social security benefits, access to healthcare. The people who end up losing in all of this; the movement for universal healthcare ends up losing, because as you end up marrying off certain members of the LBGT community, then suddenly they have access to healthcare. Their political interests shift away from the notion that “oh, hey maybe healthcare should be a universal right of citizenship”, so my concern is that the movement is becoming somewhat of an elitist movement.

JJ: So do you feel it is coming at the expense of people who are single, not in relationships?

Carrington: Yes, absolutely. That’s exactly how I view it. Some people say that’s a zero-sum game and that once we get marriage, we’ll move onto these other issues. My own view is that once those couples in their nest on the hillside are all cushy and have their tax benefits and social accolades, that they won’t really care about the rest of the community. Or a good number of them won’t.

JJ: When you conducted your studies on Gay and Lesbian Families, and also Bisexual families, you asserted that some couples were following a gay portrayal of heteronormative values. Now how would you explain this phenomenon and do you feel it affects a couple’s dynamic?

Carrington: This is a common question. What does heteronormative mean in this context? In No Place Like Home, I pointed out that one of the dynamics at work in same-sex couples is the effort to sustain gender identities that are egalitarian, but the fact of the matter is that, in order to run a household, someone has to invest in all of the work that’s necessary to make that happen. Feeding work, consumption work, cleaning work, relationships with neighbors and family and friends. Most, and depending on what kind of career trajectory you have, what kind of career you have, or what kind of income you earn, that works ends up getting divided. And the fact of the matter is, once a man in a male gay couple ends up engaging in a lot of that domesticity, there will be an effort by the couple to conceal his work, to sort of not turn him into a housewife.

JJ: And to protect that gender identity.

Carrington: To protect the gender identity. And I sort of map out that dynamic, and I still think that same pattern is at work currently.

JJ: Really?

Carrington: Yeah, I don’t think there’s that many great…

JJ: So not liber-

Carrington: Towards much more egalitarian relationships. I still think that gets determined by the natures of one’s paid employment, what kind of income opportunities you have, what’s the nature of your work schedule…I think all of those things are still playing a big role in determining who cleans the toilet, and who monitors the grocery shelves, and who cleans out the refrigerator.

JJ: So at the time of writing your book, you said you think that Lesbian and Bisexual and Gay and Transgendered people need more social and economic support. Do you feel they have more of it now, and if so, what are the conditions needed for them to realistically support a family?

Carrington: I think there is more social support, and clearly domestic partner policies over the last two decades have produced greater economic support for those relationships so from my point of view over time, there has been a greater investment of resources in gay and lesbian family life. Both at a corporate level and in public policy. I still don’t think we’re to a place where we can argue that we’ve created equality when we still don’t….still a second shift. This is true for heterosexual women, it’s true for some gay men, and lesbians in relationships, that’s still a reality that hasn’t been dealt with, and all of the stress that’s associated with that. Not to mention the increasing polarization of wealth and poverty in the country which has just been exacerbated. We keep thinking that we’re starting to deal with that problem, we thought that the 2012 election…somewhat through tax reform, we started to deal with this a little bit, but the fact remains that the gap between the rich and the poor in the United States has just solidified and grown and is becoming hardened. And those people who have access to employment, to health care, to resources, their relationships are stable and long term, lasting, they’re very happy, but for many other people in society, relationships have grown more fragile. In working class white families, their relationships are completely falling apart.

JJ: So as the income level goes down, those discrepancies are heightened?

Carrington: Absolutely. Divorce rates are moving up. The number of people who decide to raise children outside of relationships has increased. And that I would argue is about this polarization of wealth and this kind of structural unemployment that is happening for large number of working service class people in the United States.

JJ: For those who are unaware of your position, can you please stipulate why domestic partnership should be preferred as opposed to same-sex marriage at the moment?

Carrington: The great idea of the domestic partnership policies as they emerged in city and county levels (but somewhat on the state level as well) and then in corporate settings, is that in a lot of settings, you weren’t limited to your primary romantic sexual partner for whom you could declare domestic partnership benefits. Lots of these policies allow for it to be a cohabiting heterosexual partner, or for you to declare other family members; grandparents could declare their grandchildren as domestic partners. That’s completely lost when you move to the marital model. So an African American grandmother who is raising her granddaughter in Washington D.C. in their domestic partnership policy…could cover that grand-daughter under the domestic partnership policy. Once you move to the marital model, that’s out. A lot of these domestic partnerships policies are being repealed. You can see it in Massachusetts; a lot of companies are simply doing away with domestic partnerships and saying “Well, if you want these kinds of benefits, you get married”. So in fact what’s that doing is dividing this society up into the ‘marrieds’ and the ‘unmarrieds’. In my point of view, that’s the wrong direction to go. What it means is that the ‘marrieds’ are making out, and the ‘unmarrieds’ are taking it on the chin.

JJ: Now as you explain it to me and to those listening as well, it does make a certain amount of sense why your position on those policies exists. For those who aren’t quite aware, were there any instances where someone has not understood the platform that you publically operate on?

Carrington: There are always, people are always confused. I remembered having debates in the 90’s as this thing really started to heat up. Seems like a contemporary debate but it’s an old one for me. But I remember I debated at the commonwealth club where Gallagher who is the head of the National Organization for Marriage was there and the lead council for the ACLU was there making the argument for gay marriage. Maggie Gallagher was making the case against. And Maggie Gallagher, I remember her being so upset because she couldn’t quite understand my position. She said “Well are you for or against this marriage thing?” And I said “Well both, and”. I think we need a more nuanced debate about what are our goals are here, and who is included in our vision of what a just society is supposed to be about. And I think a lot of LBGT people get this, they’re like “well I have a lot of different kinds of relationships, and how is it that society decides “well this one is the one that matters” and the rest are ‘on the side’. I have a problem with that kind of conception of human relationships. So you’re right. There are a range of reactions. Gay conservatives hate me because they view me as…their whole view is that “well we’re just like everyone else so we want to live like everyone else, have the same rights that they have, the same social status that they get from their marriages, etc. That’s not my vision either of what a just society should look like.


J.J. Medina is a guest contributor at InQueery.
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