Yesterday my partner Terry, a woman, and I went to the court house to sign and file our “Declaration of Domestic Partnership” at the Racine County Register of Deeds. Terry and I were excited to find that we could apply for this legal status in Wisconsin since we knew that in 2006 the state legislature had passed a Constitutional amendment that bans same sex marriage, though neither of us is involved in the political debate around this issue. We usually just do our work and feel fortunate to share our lives together.
We were happy, even bubbly, as we legally registered a record of our fifteen-years long relationship, a process which involves presenting original birth certificates and two visits to the court house. Twice during the process I had to raise my right hand to swear an oath on the truth of our domestic partnership. We swore that we were not related to one another or married to anyone else. When the final paperwork was signed we were handed a pamphlet about raising “a little one.” Wow.
But something felt queer yesterday at the court house. Although some of the clerks appeared supportive, even pleased for us as we went through the process, others appeared less so. No smiles, no congratulations, no “have a nice day.” I left reminded that not everyone in Racine is as comfortable with our partnership as are our friends and colleagues. Considering the political division in the state, I should assume that every other Wisconsinite I meet might prefer that we not declare our domestic partnership in a court of law. It stings a little today as I write this because it is impossible to escape the buzz around the royal wedding. Yes, William and Kate were wed today in a fairy tale ceremony with “two billion people watching.”
All of this got me thinking about Shall Not be Recognized: Portraits of Same Sex Couples by Jeff Pearcy and Will Fellows on view at ExposeKenosha and Carolyn’s Coffee Connection in downtown Kenosha. My initial reaction to the show was lukewarm. Do we really need more documentary pictures of gay couples? Do we really need to hear more stories about the lives of gay couples? Well, I think perhaps many of “us” may still need help seeing the value of relationships like mine.
There is more though. After seeing Shall Not be Recognized I realized that there was something about it, about the experience of seeing the show, that was touching for me personally. The creative director of ExposeKenosha, Francisco Loyola, who is not gay, brought it in from out of town, hung it with great care in the coffee shop (until May 1), and will hang it again in the windows of abandoned buildings in downtown Kenosha where it will be on view through May 31st. It is remarkable that a member of my community cares so much about the rights and feelings of someone (gay) like me that he went out of his way to mount an exhibition celebrating same sex partnerships that in fact look a lot like mine does. (I met Francisco after Shall Not be Recognized was scheduled.) This matters, and it made me remember that the meaning of any work of art or exhibition comes as much from its context–where, how, when, and to whom it is shown–as from its subject or its style. Exhibited smack dab in the middle of Middle America, Shall Not be Recognized is sure to make some viewers bristle, but its straightforward presentation will no doubt offer others their first positive portrayal of committed couples in gay partnerships. The intentions of those who brought Shall Not be Recognized to Kenosha, together with the regular-ness of the people featured in the show, make for a pretty great exhibition.
“This post reblogged from Patricia’s “Scene Unseen: Viewing Notes.”