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Photo Essays : Same Sex Couples (by Aaron Hause)

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Note: This photographic essay originally contained multiple photos of one gay couple's daily activities and life. As long as their experiences were being shared with a small audience (the instructor and other students), they were happy to have pictures taken. However, given the stigmatization surrounding same-sex relationships and the very real threat of violence against gays and lesbians in this country, they were not comfortable sharing them with a larger audience. (The U.S. government estimates that there were approximately 1700 victims hate crimes against gays and lesbians in 2000. Go to for more information.) Hence, only two photos are used in the essay you see here and the men's faces hidden to protect their privacy and safety. -Liz Grauerholz

The sociological definition of "family" has been a work-in-progress for much of the twentieth century. Many sociologists now agree that a family no longer needs to be a group of people bound together by bloodline or legal (marital) ties. The increase in the prevalence of "alternative families," such as single-parent families, stepfamilies, same-sex couple families and other "non-traditional" household groupings has drastically changed our understanding of what constitutes an American family.

While it is true that all couples and families face difficulties in living their day-to-day lives, "alternative families" must deal with additional societal pressures. The couple comprising the photographs in this essay has confronted issues that a "traditional" couple (male/female couple) might expect to face as well as issues that gay and lesbian couples contend with, issues that are unique to the nature of their relationship. For example, gay and lesbian individuals must decide whether or not they will come out at work and risk potential alienation and harassment. This can sometimes have a silencing effect, squelching the impulse to share the joys and tribulations of one's relationship with co-workers. This is an obstacle that most heterosexual workers don't even consider. That gay and lesbian couples are still denied access to marriage creates additional problems. If one member of the couple is not a United States citizen (an international student, for example), he or she might eventually be forced to return to his or her native country. In a heterosexual couple, marriage confers U.S. citizenship on any member of the union who wasn't originally a U.S. citizen. Gay and lesbian couples are denied that right, and the many benefits that come from being married.

Like most couples, it's difficult for Jeff and Mark to find time to just relax and catch up on their day. As a graduate student, Jeff spends many evenings at work. Occasionally Mark stops by his office and takes his own work to do there.

While there are detrimental societal pressures unique to gay and lesbian relationships, there are also positive results of some of these constrictions. Many gay and lesbian couples enjoy the freedom of "defining" a family for themselves. This allows for a more inclusive and less rigid development of family life-including close friends (fictive kin) and other individuals important to the makeup of a gay or lesbian couple's family. Another positive aspect of gay and lesbian relationships is the eradication of the notion of "separate spheres" (unequal roles in a marriage based on gender), a problem common to heterosexual relationships. As both members of a gay or lesbian relationship are of the same gender, the rigid division of gender and gender roles does not exist. In this way, gay and lesbian relationships might be viewed as (generally) based upon egalitarian principles that aren't always present in heterosexual relationships. The intent of the these photographs is to show the ways in which one gay couple have developed their own "blueprint" for family and family life, and what it means to be "a couple."

The kitchen is tiny but Jeff and Mark enjoy cooking and eating meals together. For the most part, they try to share the housework but sometimes more chores fall on Mark's shoulders since Jeff works longer hours. Although Jeff has come out to his family and has been accepted by them, Mark has not. This creates considerable pressure and stress on the relationship whenever Mark's parents come to visit. Pretending to be "just roommates" is constraining and painful and alienates Mark from his parents. The couple has established strong bonds with other couples within the gay community, who feel more like family than their family of origin do.

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