Marking Passages ??? Transitions, The Internet, and Ritual

Last week, my partner of six years and I went to the City Clerk’s office to sign a piece of paper, registering with the city that we have what they term a “domestic partnership.” We did it for the insurance: she gets decent dental insurance, I should go to the dentist more often, and her employer extends insurance benefits to domestic partners.

And yet, despite the banal and practical reasons behind it, I thought we should do something to acknowledge the occasion. We asked a friend to come along to take pictures. We stopped by our local florist for two pink roses, which they sold to us despite the fact that they weren’t open yet. The owners were charmed, I think, by our friend’s hyperbolic assertion that we were “getting married.”

When I posted the pictures on Facebook, there was a flood of well wishes, turning this somewhat bureaucratic event into a little cyber-party.

On Wednesday, I defended my creative thesis for my M.F.A. candidacy. I sat in a room, answered questions about my work, got another piece of paper signed, and am on my way to officially having a graduate degree.

Coincidentally, Doveglion Press published my “Notes towards a queer::eco::poetics” this week, which felt like an appropriate marker of the occasion of my thesis defense. For the past two and a half years, I’ve had the opportunity to develop a poetics that speaks to both my formal and social concerns, and now, at the end of it, I have a cyber-concrete representation of this work.

So I’m thinking about ritual in my life and how the internet seems to have become a space for marking significant moments and events. I’m not one to be hypercritical of the social networking trend. I think it has brought some interesting dimensions to our social lives: the ability to stay in closer touch despite distances, the possibility of connecting with people we might never have otherwise met, the easy informal exchange of information and conversation that, as easily as it can entrench old ways of thinking, can also generate new ways of thinking, and so on.

But there is the “virtual reality” aspect of the internet, as well as its tendency to elicit performative behaviors, that does create a degree of remove. Is our domestic partnership more or less “real” because it was marked on Facebook? It’s hard to say.

I do think that, in a way, it mirrors what ritual has always been. That is, creating a space outside of reality and performing gestures and movements in order to heighten the moment, transition, or occasion that is being marked.

As my partner and I take steps towards adopting a child, I’ve been considering how non-traditional our family will be, and what that will mean for our child. The holiday season is in full swing, and I often feel like my political beliefs turn me into a curmudgeon at this time of the year: I refuse to celebrate the genocide of Native Americans; I balk against rampant consumerism and the imposition of Christianity on society at large.

(Although the Krampus ritual has got me reconsidering…)

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At the same time, I remember the pleasure I derived as a child from the rituals of the season ??? the family Thanksgiving dinner (usually free of family drama), the marking of the days of Christmas via the advent calendar, and of course the excitement of opening presents on Christmas morning.

I don’t want to deny our child such pleasures. Instead, I want to find new ways into ritual ??? both “real” and “virtual,” that will help us mark significant passage in our formation and life as a queer family.