Minnesota legalizing same-sex marriage is particularly poignant because it’s where my father grew up, and my father’s father was homosexual and, as far as I or my dad or really anyone at this point know because I don’t think anyone in the family ever talked to him about it, he was troubled as you might be troubled if you were homosexual and coming of age in the 1920s in Minnesota.
When I was a teenager, we took a family trip to the area north of Chicago where my mother’s family lived: Waukegan, Libertyville, Gurnee, and then up to Winona, Minnesota, on the Mississippi River, where my dad was born and lived as a child. I have a stack of Instamatic photos I took of houses on that trip. As we drove around town, my dad would point and say, “There,” “There,” “We lived there.” I think I took pictures of about a dozen houses where he lived for a few months, a year, two. There would be an indiscretion, a rumor, a scandal, and the family would move.
Several times my grandfather disappeared, and my grandmother (Grandma Lenore, who I write about so often) would pull my dad and his sister out of school and go find him where he’d usually be living with a man. One time they followed him all the way to Waukegan, Illinois and stayed for a while. That’s where my dad met my mom, who grew up on a farm in Gurnee, which used to be a couple of long roads intersecting a few fields of corn and soybeans, a red barn or two, but now it’s mostly Six Flags Great America.
My only regret about my wedding is that I forgot to raise a toast to my grandfather at the reception. I had planned to say that I wonder how different his life could have been if he’d known that he could -- not if he actually had but just if he had known that it was a possibility for him to -- stand up in front of his family and commit his life to a man he loved, rather than marrying a woman (whom I have no doubt he loved, but that’s not the point) and being compelled to a secret life of pleasure and shame and fear. When I was three years old, he died drunk somewhere in New Mexico, his corpse lying in a public morgue for days or weeks before the news reached anyone who cared. And now same-sex marriage is legal in Minnesota.
The argument for gay marriage – in response to those like me who have argued that, as the focus of the gay rights movement, marriage is too conservative, too limited, that rather than moving us toward sexual liberation it takes us backward, it binds us to a regressive institution, limits the possibilities of relationships, family structures – the argument is that it changes the culture. It lets society see us as normal, ordinary, with the same wish to belong to stable families and communities. It lets us into the fold. And isn’t that what we wanted all along anyway, just to belong? Maybe.
No doubt that framing of the issue (the conservative argument for gay “equality,” which is basically that homosexuals exist and no amount of Christian nonsense is going to change that so why not figure out a way to turn them into productive members of society instead of outcasts and criminals?) is what has turbocharged the movement these last 15-20 years. But if homosexuality is on its way to becoming ordinary, I’m feeling sort of grateful that I was born on the cusp of that change, that I got to be around for a while when it was still extraordinary to be gay.
C and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary two weeks ago on May 5th. We’re saving our money for the adoption (do you have any idea how expensive that is?), so instead of the pricey restaurant we’d usually choose on a special occasion, we had dinner at Joe Allen (I’m not not thinking right now about how different my life is now with C than it was before, that I would think of Joe Allen as a moderately-priced restaurant) because it was where we were when C first told me he loved me. It was an accident, I think. We’d only known each other for a few weeks, though we’d been more or less inseparable. We had just sat down for dinner before a show, and he said, “I love this place. And I love you.” As soon as the words left his mouth, we both froze. Then laughed. I said, “Okay, I love you, too.”
People ask, “How’s married life?” and in many ways it’s true that it’s ordinary. We sleep, watch TV, eat dinner, have a couple Manhattan cocktails when we get home from work (well, maybe that’s not ordinary for everyone, but what use is gay marriage if we can’t pretend we’re Darrin and Samantha Stephens every once in a while?)
But here’s what’s extraordinary. I think maybe I’ve tried to express this before, but I am surprised and amazed to discover that within this structure, this institution, this ironclad commitment, I find an extraordinary freedom to be who I am completely. With C, I don’t have that fear anymore, that fear which was a huge component of every relationship, every encounter I had with men, the fear that there is a point at which I would expose too much, the danger that he would eventually discover something about me, something I did or believe, some angle from which he’ll see my body, that will extinguish his love for me. It's a huge burden lifted.
That’s not to say that no one ever offered me unconditional love, but that I never accepted it before now. I was not ready, not capable, hated myself too much, whatever. C asked me recently if I missed my wild days. It doesn’t feel like the right question. I don’t miss my wild days -- they still exist in my imagination. They’re part of who I am now. So maybe I had to have my wild days, and not just the wild days but the 50 years of love and sex and contemplation and meditation and therapy and the advice and example of friends and my parents and siblings, and books and plays and movies and pop songs, TV shows, and standup comedy, and walking the streets of so many cities and towns watching people live their lives, and learning from those who have loved me how to be loved, maybe I had to live all that life before I was ready for this.
Anyway, whatever, I think too much. However this happened, I'm glad. It’s really good.