It’s been a long march to this point. Back in 2003, I was on the steps of the Massachusetts Supreme Court shouting and screaming, dreaming of a future that I didn’t even know was possible for someone like me. Three years ago, a year after the New York Legislature deemed marriage to be the law of its land, I married my husband in a civil ceremony at Manhattan City Hall. Today, with the stroke of a judicial pen, our relationship is considered equal to those of our straight counterparts, whether we decide to stay in New York or adventure to Texas or hide away in the mountains of West Virginia, where I was born.
I’ve been thinking a lot about who I was before my marriage. I was never a fourteen-year-old boy dreaming about walking a man down the aisle. My fourteen-year-old self was precocious but scared, a queer little mountain boy dodging foul mouths and fisticuffs and singing too loudly at all the wrong moments. I spent so much time trying to downplay my big gay secret that I ended up living a lot of those days in the dark. I knew who I was. The problem was I didn’t know how to be.
The world has changed. These days, my husband cooks dinner and I do the dishes. We watch important television and not-so-important television. We read a lot of books and we take walks in the park and I spend too much of my life cleaning house. When it’s just the two of us alone in our cramped little apartment, I can close my eyes and feel normal. Normal as in everyday. Normal as in not unusual. I’m not any less queer or any less political. I’m normal as in human.
The problem comes with thinking there’s something shameful about the fabric of your being. When I was a kid, I knew this as a fact. My parents’ god was one of fire and brimstone. Many of the kids at school had no problem naming me as I walked down the hallway (you know the words). When I turned twenty, my mother found out I had a boyfriend and told me I was no longer her son. I had become someone else, she said. I had become abnormal.
When you don’t see yourself reflected in the world, when the government says people like you don’t deserve recognition for your so-called abnormal behavior, you spend a lot of time lurking around dark corners. You can’t see a possible future. You imagine a life spent in the margins, and you carve out such a life for yourself. This is not a happy existence.
I have been dwelling on a thought today: I can’t remember the first boy I kissed. This is the kind of thing that is taken away when you are forced to live a portion of your life in secret. Instead, you are left with the kinds of memories that bring you shame. I wanted to flirt with boys at parties. I wanted to hold hands and go to the movies on dates and live through all of the juvenile milestones that my friends got to experience. But those things weren’t available to me back then, in a world that still considered sodomy a crime. Instead, I have this: parked cars and seedy motel rooms with people who I knew only by username. I was an honor student by day and a clandestine homosexual at night. I can’t remember that first kiss. I remember the exhilaration and the pain and the fear–all the feelings and hardly any of the faces.
I was lucky in many ways. I got out. I surrounded myself by people that respected me without qualification. I learned to keep marching forward and to create my own thriving world in parallel to the one that wanted to push me back into the darkness. In the thirty years of my existence, I have seen great and amazing changes. I am getting closer every day to living a life without shame and fear. As the walls of homophobia crumble, I am hopeful. My marriage to the love of my life has saved me in many ways. But then again, it wasn’t really the marriage. He had been loving me and saving me for years, long before we’d ever exchanged any vows.
I suppose this all a roundabout way of me arguing that the institution of marriage does matter. It won’t instantly and magically stop all of the violence. It won’t address the other very real issues that affect our communities and livelihoods. It doesn’t address the marginalization of LGBT people of color. But it does send a message. It expands the definition of normal just a little. It doesn’t ask us to conform to this definition, and we all know that a human’s worth never had anything to do with marriage. I like to think instead that this change is about dignity and the recognition that we are all members of the same human family.
I am hopeful for the future. I remember who I was back then and I see how far I’ve come. I try to imagine the lives of the children being born today, being told from day one that they will be respected and treated equally no matter who they choose to love. I wonder how I would have been different if I had been given permission to dream.