I finally caved and rented The Kids Are All Right. When I first heard about the plot, it pissed me off. We all know the way Hollywood generally does queer women — well, it doesn’t do queer women. It just does “lesbians”: bed death, boring sex, butches and femmes. Bickering. Kids. Cats.
It is all very depressing. So I didn’t even want to watch The Kids Are All Right, out of principle. But I kept hearing about the award nominations, how the director is a real live lesbian and how it was getting all this praise for being a “true portrait of an urban family” and all this shit. And I thought, “Okay, you are being judgmental, and you are carrying around these preconceived notions about a movie you haven’t even seen yet. Plus, you are a Canadian queer parent and are therefore obligated to see it.”
So I finally gave in.
Here is a basic plot summary for those of you who haven’t seen it:
Julianne Moore: You aren’t giving me enough attention, so I am going to go off and fuck this guy, who also happens to be our sperm donor, oh — I don’t know — 20 odd times and I am going to enjoy it a lot because the guy just happens to have a dick. And I am going to keep that from you and then expect you to just forgive me and move on because we are a family, dammit, and that’s what real lesbians do. And it’s no surprise that I would rather sleep with a man because I am a femme woman, after all, but I am going to stay with you because we are a family, dammit. And it won’t happen again so long as you keep paying for this really nice house and keep me well stocked with gay porn. Oh and hey, by the way — grow a dick.
Annette Bening: Yes, okay, I see that. We are a family, dammit. A real urban family. I love you.
Julianne Moore: I love you too.
Barf! Blech! Ugh! Give me a fucking break!
Anyway, this column isn’t really about The Kids Are All Right. I have been hearing the voice of Dan Savage recently when I watch stuff like that and thinking a lot about monogamy: when it works (which is sometimes) and when it doesn’t (which is most of the time). It scares me to death to think of my partner sleeping with someone else, never mind a man. It scares me to death to think of me sleeping with someone else.
But it scares me even more to think about either of us spending our lives together feeling bored and miserable and longing for something else. And it probably scares me the most to think of either of us running out and fucking some random — or not so random — other person and keeping it a secret.
Having been in a relationship for seven years and counting, I am progressively learning about what a long-term gig can offer, and it goes far beyond the companionship, comfort, stability and steady affection that a lot of people think it entails.
In some ways there can be less stability as time goes on, because it is easy to be amazing for a couple of months or a year or two, but it is harder to be amazing for, say, a decade. Which doesn’t mean that misery is inevitable; it means that evolution is required.
When we enter into a long-term relationship with someone we end up holding on to something very precious, which isn’t some fragile chemistry that we have to preserve between the two of us. Instead, what we hold on to is the precious evolutionary process of two (in our case) people who have decided to join forces.
If we push ourselves to be brave and loving, we aspire to exchange a significant piece of our sexual selves. We aspire to help each other explore and develop through sex, through conversation and through other experiences. Those of us in long-term relationships become an important part of, as well as a witness to, each other’s sexual history — a gift of specific, intimate knowledge about someone else, about that person’s body and, in lots of ways, about the dark corners of their personality that are absolutely irreplaceable.
If we push ourselves constantly to be brave and loving, we can each become a long-term source of energy, encouragement and support for the other’s hot, sexual evolution.
I am learning this lesson. We should maybe look at our relationships — with ourselves and with our partners — as a million little things all added together instead of seeing them as one big honking package. We can pick through all those million little things, decide which ones do and don’t work, talk about which ones do and don’t work, negotiate which ones can be embraced and which ones we need to let go. It’s evolution, baby.
I used to read a lot of Jeanette Winterson, who said, “You risk what you value,” and I have only recently understood what she meant. You want to see the things you value, such as your long-term relationships, reach their full potential. And that can happen only through the taking of risks. The Kids Are All Right had all the risk without any of the value, which would have called for negotiation, analysis, honesty and evolution. The kids were all right, and everything else was a fucking mess.