Friday, October 31, 2008

Role Playing

One thing in particular stood out for me during my cousin's nuptials last weekend - how traditional gender roles were emphasized and celebrated. Not that there is anything wrong with such roles, as we all have the freedom to abide by them or not. But I did find the language and ritual jarring and anachronistic, my cousin's choice to include such rubrics surprising. It is 2008. Is a woman still expected to subsume herself to her husband?

That might not have been her intention. Perhaps, she simply wanted to continue and honor traditions important to her immigrant Filipino parents and to her husband's immigrant Chinese parents. She just might be proud of her heritage.

During the wedding service, the coin bearer (a little boy), brought forth arrhae, "earnest money" in the form of 13 coins. For Filipinos, it signifies the groom's "pledge of his dedication to the welfare of his wife and children (source:" Man as provider.

After, attendants or "sponsors" flanked the kneeling couple and lit a candle on each side. A second set of sponsors then draped and pinned a veil of white tulle over the bride's head and groom's shoulder. Finally, another couple laid a cord in the form of a figure eight on the couple's shoulders. While the veil (and cord) symbolizes the bond of marriage, the presiding deacon* emphasized the bride's vow to be be faithful, pure and obedient to her husband. Woman as chattel.

During the reception, the couple had the Chinese wedding tea ceremony where they served the groom's elders. The elders, beginning with the oldest, were "invited" to drink tea. They sat on chairs while the bride and groom, bowing, offered them cups. In exchange, the couple was rewarded with red envelopes stuffed with cash. A relative or two gave the bride jewelry.**

It may very well be the case that my cousin is simply proud of her heritage. Judging by the toasts, it became apparent that those closest to the couple knew who wore the pants in the relationship. Clearly, her husband does not own her.

However, there is power in ritual and language in that it perpetuates roles and rules that may no longer be appropriate for our time. Moreover, such traditions enshrine inequity and power within relationships. These proscriptions stifle and stunt individuals.

A few years ago, I was sitting in church when it occurred to me that I was nearly forty, not married, gay, heavily in debt (student loans), with no house in the suburbs or 2.5 kids - thank you Jesus! I was and am grateful that somewhere along the line I realized that I did not have to be or follow a certain way. That I was free to choose how my life would unfold. Free to be happy.

How many people regret not having pursued their dreams, not listening to their call, not being true to themselves because they bought into roles and rules imposed upon them? The photographer who became a doctor because it had been his parents' dream. The traveler who is tied at home because her pastor says that is her place. The woman who remains biologically male because she had married.

A day after the wedding, I was surprised again by people's adherence to traditional roles and rules. Even by gay individuals. Over brunch, an older gay priest was taken aback that I did not drop everything and "support" my partner. That I did not play the perfect minister's wife, serving tea and standing behind him. I think he expected this more from me as I am Asian.

I don't think so.

*Since the groom refused to convert to Roman Catholicism, the catholic service did not include holy eucharist and a deacon was assigned to officiate.

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