Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Proposition 8 and Mark Doty's "Theory of Marriage (The Hug)"

With Proposition 8 still existing, it’s crucial we evaluate our strategies in attempting to garner support in our fight. No doubt our poems reflect in some ways the gay community’s mainstream arguments. If we parade more conventional strategies, we need to attempt to discern the consequences.

No doubt Mark Doty’s recent “Theory of Marriage (The Hug)” presents his trademark poem-as-argument. As a deliberate pedagogue, Doty compares how his dogs, Arden and Beau, attempt to receive affection, ostensibly privileging one over the other. This can be read as instructional guidance as to how queers need to behave. There's nothing inherently wrong with a poem telling us how to live; it isn’t anything new or offensive. Think Horace.

And in the current political climate, we may need more poems offering such imperatives.

Here’s the poem in its entirety:

Arden would turn his head toward the one
He loved, Paul or me, and look downward,
And butt the top of his skull against us, leaning forward,
hiding his face, disappearing into what he’d chosen.

Beau had another idea. He’d offer his rump
for scratching, and wag his tail while he was stroked,
returning that affection by facing away, looking out
toward whatever might come along to enjoy.

Beau has no interest in the economy of affection;
why hoard what you can give away?
Arden thought you should close your eyes
to anything else; only by vanishing

into the beloved do you make it clear:
what else is there you'd want to see?

At this particular historical moment, it is impossible to read the poem as anything but an argument for the repeal of Proposition 8.

Or an explanation as to why the courts reified the public’s decision. Much in the same vein of Larry Kramer’s prose such as Faggots, the poem could be read as a critique of gay male promiscuity.

The metaphors are appealing creepy. Are you an Arden or Beau?

Or should we reframe the question: a donkey or elephant? Wild or tamed?

Why can’t you be married and still desire? It’s Doty’s insertion of that “only” that worries me. Does an open relationship (or even a closed one with some straying) preclude an inability to express genuine love?

With the failure to repeal Proposition 8, am I simply hypersensitive? Should I see the poem as a mere strategy in convincing straight people that we will comfort ourselves through telling the same lies that they do? That way they will allow us to wear the ring and sign the contract?

I’m concerned that our desire to marry will cause us to marginalize those of us who choose something else.

Then again, do we need to engage in such strategies to receive our rights, and then, and only then, we can dismiss what we said prior to our victory.

But what about that word “hoard”? Is he deliberately toning down sex-positive arguments, gently mocking Beau? Does Doty possess he still believes in the sanctity of lust and pure, unabashed desire? A marriage doesn’t have to transform physical connection primarily into a dull, needy hug? Quick, desperate fucks between partner can still be possible, can’t they?

Couldn’t we even argue Beau is ultimately kinder to his audience? Isn't there’s something ungenerous, maybe even inhumane, in not giving away your body to those who crave it?

(When I did Gay.Com and sent fake photos, I enjoyed watching disappointed men attempt to scurry out the door. It entertained me. Sometimes I would call attention to their discomfort. “You are so hot,” I’d say, “You owe me the pleasure of your beautiful body. It’s not fair not to share it with someone will never have one of their own.” It worked. As it should have.)

Whatever ambivalence do (or don’t) present themselves in Doty’s theory of marriage, we need to hope that one day we’ll morph ourselves back into human being without the help of a poet or a state court judge.


  1. I am an Arden. I think my Arden is an Arden, and I think my Beau is also an Arden.

    How do we even know that we love? It's a vague signifier.

  2. Being a Beau doesn't have to mean that you are just giving out sex. It can also mean how receiving love can make you capable of enriching others lives (since loving others can mean more than just sex, lest we forget that). However, even if Doty mean it as a purely sexual reference he is addressing part of the HUMAN condition to seek variety. Regardless of sexual orientation, we sometimes seek outside a relationship. C'mon- look at Tiger Woods and plenty of other famous heterosexuals who stepped outside of their marital beds. How could you possibly believe you have a valid argument based on this poem? Leave Doty out of this.

  3. This criticism is a bit hung up. But I see that Arden is the Madonna, Beau is the whore. Doty's being icy. People love their tethers when they pity the unencumbered. Pretty interesting poem to look at considering that . signed, anonymous single and proud queer in the wires