For some years now my final post of the year has been about my New Year’s Wish for everyone. Once again, this hasn’t been a great hope-inspiring year.
Even more people dying from ought to be a preventable disease. The angry science deniers/racists/homophobes seem to get more and more obstinate in their embrace of what can only be described at a death cult.
In other words, the world feels broken.
I never know what I’m going to type when I start this post each year. I sometimes worry that the voice in the back of my head that refuses to give up hope and tells me what I should wish will fail me. Despite the fact that I’ve often said that I appear the be fundamentally unable to stop finding at least a sliver of optimism, nothing lasts forever, right?
But as I was typing that paragraph, the surge of hope and optimism spoke up. So this year will not be the one, so, here is my New Year’s wish for you:
They say that time heals all wounds, but many of us know that time alone doesn’t heal everything. Some wounds need love, hope, and light to heal. Some things that are broken can only be mended by with a lot of work. If we look at all of the ways things are broken, it seems overwhelming. There is just too much work needed to fix all of them. Take a breath. Think about the people who have loved you in the past. People who loved you in a way that helped you become the person you are today. Thank them. And if they are no longer with us, think about the people you love. Thank them. Tell them you love them. Don’t be afraid to tell people you care about that you love them. Love them and let them love you. Now, don’t worry about all of the things that are broken. Concentrate on things you can do something about. Let your love and light shine on the people in your life and the people who cross your path. Love heals all wounds. Let your love out.
I’ve written a few times about how I and my husband got married on the very first day it was legal to do so in our state. And how our fabulous friends assembled a beautiful wedding chapel in their home and how many other wonderful friends attended and played music (secretly organizing the music without us knowing) and so many other great things.
I cried a lot.
Rather than recap all of that, I figured this story about other weddings that happened that same day, a few miles away at Seattle City Hall would suffice:
Today is National Coming Out Day. If Ray were still alive, it would also be the day we’d be celebrating the twenty-seventh anniversary of our commitment ceremony (he promised to stay with me for the rest of his life, and he did). My (very-much alive) husband Michael and I don’t have any anniversaries that are close to this date, but this is the twenty-first National Coming Out Day we’ve lived together.
I’ve written many times about how important it is that queer people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, nonbinary, trans, aromantic, genderfluid, two-spirit, questioning, intersex, and so no) be out if they safely can be. Studies show that being closeted has several deleterious effects on one’s mental and physical health. When you’re in the closet, you aren’t being yourself. You are pretending to be someone who others wouldn’t guess was part of the LGBT. When you’re in the closet you’re in a constant state of anxiety—the very real fear that if some people knew your secret, they would reject you, shun you, or maybe even physically assault you.
That takes a toll.
Studies have also shown that the more LGBT people that a straight person knows, the less likely they are to harbor bigoted beliefs toward the community. And queer young people who have out role models in their community are far less likely to attempt suicide.
So there are many, many good reasons to get out.
There are reasons to be wary of being out. For instance, 40% of homeless teens are homeless precisely because they have been kicked out or driven from their homes when their families found out they were queer. And there are bigots in every community who pose financial, social, and physical threats to queer people. So I understand why staying in the closet sometimes feels like the safer option.
But I have to say from personal experience, that not living with that constant burden of fear is such a relief. Now, the relief don’t always come right away, because sometimes the people closest to you — even those that you are absolutely certain will be okay with learning this about you — don’t react positively. When I came out, several friends and relatives I thought would at least be tolerant absolutely flipped out. Two that I was certain had just been waiting for me to admit it categorically denied that they had ever suspect at all — and one of them insisted that the mere fact that I thought they knew already was somehow proof that I had been brainwashed into thinking I was gay.
On the other hand, there were family members and friends who I had thought wouldn’t take it well who turned into my fiercest defenders against the other.
The sad fact is that you aren’t going to know who will stand by you until you come out.
But the flip side of that is, the ones who reject you? The ones who through the worst fit when you come out? They never loved you. No matter how much they insist that they did, the truth is that they didn’t love you, they loved the straight person they imagined you to be. And their rejection demonstrates that their love had always been conditional.
Coming out was scary. But once the initial difficulties blew over, I made an amazing discovery: since I was no longer expending all that energy pretending to be something I wasn’t and scared to death people would find out I was pretending, I had a whole lot more time and energy to spend on the things I love. And the more time I spent doing the things I love, the more new people who were ready to accept me for who I was came into my life.
If it is safe for you to come out, you should. You’ll find that standing proud in the opne, being true to yourself, is so much better than hiding in the dark!
A couple of years ago I was chatting with a new co-worker, who noticed the photo of my husband on my desk. The picture was taken on our wedding day. Michael was wearing his top hat and other formal wear, and a friend was helping him tie his cravat. The co-worker asked who the person in the picture was, I said it was my husband, and the co-worker asked, “How long have you been married?” And I said that we had been together (at that point) nearly 20 years, but had only legally been married for 5 years. The co-worker looked confused, and then asked, “Why did you wait so long?” To which I replied, “Because it wasn’t legal for us to get married until 2012.” The co-worker’s eyes went wide, and then they said (in what I interpreted as a very embarrassed tone of voice), “Oh, right. Um, yeah, that makes sense.”
And that 2012 date was for the state of Washington. For the majority of the U.S. marriage was still not available to same sex couples until the Supreme Court ruling in 2015.
I told you that story so I can tell you this one:
A couple of weeks ago I was busy at work updating documents. I had to type the day’s date several times, and one of those times it struck me, “Oh! Wow! Today’s the anniversary of our first date.” It was, specifically, the 22nd anniversary of our first date. As it happened, we already had plans to meet a bunch of friends a couple of days later, at which event I was already planning to hand out some Christmas presents that had not be collected at the party, and a birthday present, and other things, so during my lunch break that day, I ran out to a store and also purchased an anniversary card to give to Michael, along with a silly present to give him with the card (I also ordered a couple the more substantial gifts online).
As it happened, that same day, while typing the date into a database at his workplace, Michael also remembered that it was the anniversary of our first date. He went online later and ordered an anniversary present for me. And, yes, we do that kind of weird parallel thinking a lot, and every time it happens, I remember all the times that close friends said (that year that we finally got to marry for real) that it was a little strange to think of us as newlyweds, because we had seemed to be an old married couple for so very long before hand.
I understand that not many people who have been in long-term relationships remember the exact date of their first date, nor the date of when they first met, et cetera. One reason that we do is because for most of history, queer relationships have been excluded from the societally-approved institutions related to anniversaries. So, for a few years, we celebrated the anniversary of our first date as our anniversary as a couple.
Then, the company I was working for decided to allow same sex partner benefits but only if you registered with some sort of government agency, and it so happened that the City of Seattle was offering such a registry (though it conveyed no legal benefits), so we filed the appropriate paperwork so I could get Michael on my medical and dental… and then a few years after that the State of Washington offered a similar registry, though initially with virtually no legal rights, but we signed up for it anyway, and so on…
So, technically we have a bunch of anniversaries… but which one to celebrate? And that question isn’t trivial. Go back to the story I started with. Without really thinking about it, a person who had just met me had asked how long I’d been married. That is an extremely common question for people who are just getting to know each other to ask once they find out you are in a relationship. And humans are social animals, and social customs often have a much stronger impact on one’s success, health, and similar things than mere laws.
I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been together for 22 years—if for no other reason than that I know what a complete jerk I can be sometimes (I really don’t know why he puts up with me sometimes!). I’m also extremely happy that we were able to get legally married at last, and getting to spend that day with so many friends that we love was just incredible.
There are still people who think that long-term queer relationships don’t exist, or are so rare that they don’t matter. The fact that the people most likely to publicly declare that are pundits and politicians who have divorced and re-married many times (and often have been proven to have engaged in a lot of affairs along the way) for some reason almost never gets reported. Let alone the sociological and psychological damage we’re all operating under because of decades of bullying, discrimination, hatred, and simple erasure.
That graph I include above is informative, but also a bit misleading. That last bit of the graph shouldn’t be green, IMHO, because it is still legal in at least 28 states to fire someone (or refuse to rent a home to them, et cetera) just because they are gay. And don’t get me started on all the state and local officials in various places that are trying to undo the marriage ruling, or at least ignore it.
Some people, like the co-worker in my opening anecdote, simply aren’t aware of how recent any legal or societal acceptance has been (and are also frequently clueless about how much still exists). In some cases, that lack of awareness are exacerbated by the histrionics that some bigots have gone into every single time we made any progress at all. It’s easy to think that because the bigots were screaming about us destroying marriage for two decades before we actually started getting that right to marry, that we’ve had the right longer. And a lot of people still don’t realize that in 28 states it is completely legal for an employer to fire someone simply because they suspect they might be gay.
We’ve come a long way, but there’s a long way to go. Fortunately, several of us have demonstrated that we’re in it for the long haul.
Today is National Coming Out Day. If Ray were still alive, it would also be the day we’d be celebrating the twenty-sixth anniversary of our commitment ceremony (he promised to stay with me for the rest of his life, and he did). My (very-much alive) husband Michael and I don’t have any anniversaries that are close to this date, but this is the twentieth National Coming Out Day we’ve lived together.
I’ve written about why I think it is important that every queer person (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, pansexual, nonbinary, genderfluid, asexual, aromantic, two-spirit, questioning, et cetera) who can safely be out of the closet to do so. Study after study has shown that the more queer friends and acquaintances a straight person has, the more likely they are to support equality for LGBT people. Studies also show that queer and questioning teens and children who have positive queer role models in their community are significantly less likely to attempt suicide than those who don’t.
But it is also important for your own mental and physical health. Being in the closet means living in a constant state of fear. You second guess everything. You’re constantly worried about being rejected by friends or family members if they find out. All that anxiety and stress takes a toll on your mental and physical well-being.
Make no mistake: the fear is real. About 40% of the homeless teens are in that situation because they were kicked out of their homes by their parents when the parents found out they were gay or trans (which is why I advise young people to be very careful about coming out while still financial dependent on their parents). Even if you wait until you are a self-supporting adult (I was 31 years old when I came out), you may still face rejection from people you have loved and counted on your whole life. One of my grandmothers forbade any other family member of mentioning me in her presence. A friend I had thought of as closer than a brother since we were teen-agers was quite angry when I came out and to this day (he happens to be married to a distance relative of mine, so I still hear about him from time to time) insists that I’m going to burn in hell because I’m gay.
But, not everyone reacts that way. And some people will surprise you. One of my aunts who is otherwise quite politically conservative declared that anyone who had a problem with me being gay would have a bigger problem with her. Some people who had been acquaintances that I thought would just shrug and move on became genuinely close friends because coming out to them is an act of making yourself vulnerable—and when they react to that vulnerability with acceptance, that changes the way you perceive each other.
Once I was no longer spending all of that time and energy trying to hide part of myself from anyone, I found that I had more energy and enthusiasm to do the things I love. And when you’re doing that, you meet other people who love some of the things you do. Coming out meant losing (and in some cases evicting) more than a few people from my life. It wasn’t a loss, though, because those people had never loved me for who I was—they liked the mask that I wore when I was closeted. And that’s true even of the relatives who had suspected I was gay for decades and had spent many years praying that god would change me. Those were people who were not adding to my life—their love was conditional, and one of the conditions was that I live a life of fear and without love and intimacy. Separating myself from those people, made room for a much more wonderful and supportive found family.
I was lucky enough to fall in love with a sweet man who loved me back. And after he died, I was lucky again to meet and fall in love with another (though very different) man who loved me back. Being able to love and be loved and not keep that love a secret is something that straight people take for granted that many literally can’t comprehend why being out matters. Once you experienced it, you’ll be amazed at how long you put up with concealing your real self.
So, if it is safe for you to come out, you should. You’ll find that standing out in the light, being true to yourself, is so much better than hiding in the dark!
Today is the six-year anniversary of the day we stood in front of many of our loved ones and exchanged vows. We were pronounced husband and husband and I cried. We didn’t pick this date. The voters of Washington State picked our wedding date. Because we’d been together for more than 14 years when our state approved marriage equality by a vote of the people—by a wider margin than any of the other states who approved it that year. And because sometimes this things get taken away (see the entire Proposition 8 nonsense in California in 2008), we went in on the very first day same sex couples could pick up a marriage license, waited the required three days, and then had a ceremony at the home of some of our friends.
Not that we weren’t both deliriously happy to be doing it, and while we weren’t like some of those couples who had been together for more than 50 years and were finally getting to tie the knot, it wasn’t a date we had picked.
That’s just another thing that is awkward about our society’s history with queer rights. Michael mentioned that he was just recently trying to explain to a co-worker that we have several anniversaries: the anniversary of our first date (Michael and been a friend to Ray and I for more than a couple years when Ray died, so our first date was not the first time we met), the anniversary of when we moved in together, the anniversary of when we registered or domestic partnership (and we had a small party with friends), and then the wedding anniversary.
Due to cultural conditioning, the wedding date was the one that felt most dramatic. And I know that all couples have significant milestones before they officially tie the knot. But it is a very common thing, when one is meeting a new straight couple, to ask how long they’ve been married. And even if you phrase it differently, 90-some percent of the time they will respond with, “we’ve been married X-years.”
Even though marriage equality has only been existent in this state for six years (and nationwide only three), I’ve still found myself being asked by people, “How long have you been married?” And the first few times when I just said the number of years, yes, people were shocked that we had only been together such a short time. So I’ve started automatically answered, “We’ve only legally been married X years, but we were together for nearly 15 before we could get married.” And sometimes people respond to that with confusion, and then incredulity when I tell them that same sex couples couldn’t legally marry before then. Even some people who think of themselves as open-minded and supportive of gay rights don’t understand that marriage equality is a very recent thing.
Which, given all the media attention and the millions of dollars worth of anti-gay political advertising put up in each state when votes about domestic partnerships or marriage were in the works, seems a little weird. How could they miss all that Sturm und Drang?
And so, while today is our sixth anniversary, and just thinking about it and looking at all the pictures our friends took that day makes me cry, we’ve actually been together for 20 years and 10 months, or 250 months, which may explain why we finish each other’s sentences and so forth.
He’s the most wonderful man I know. I really, seriously can’t quite understand why he puts up with me, let alone loves me. But I’m eternally grateful that he does.
I was in the checkout line at the grocery store on Saturday and the clerk asked me if there was an occasion, since there were two cakes and some ice cream among my purchase. So I explained that my husband’s birthday was this week, and that we had friends coming over Saturday evening. Then she asked if it was a major birthday, and I said that he was turning 48. She grinned and said, “Oh! Forty-eight! You got yourself a young man, didn’t you?” And I laughed and said, “Yes, yes I did!”
There are people who might object to the characterization of a 48-year-old as young, but age is relative and my husband is ten years younger than me. When we first started dating, he was in his 20s while I was in my 30s. More than one of my friends and acquaintances at the time expressed (some less tactfully than others) worry about the difference in our ages. Though I think some of those worries were very inverted. He’s far more sensible and mature than I am, for instance. I know at least one of his friends was convinced that I was an evil old pervert taking advantage of him. I get it. Most of my adult life I think I’ve looked older than my actual age (heck, when I was in my late teens people kept mistaking me for my Mom’s brother rather than her son!). When I look at pictures of him from when we first started dating, I think he barely looked old enough to be in a bar, let alone working as a bartender!
And truth be told, I’ve also felt way too lucky to even be with him, so it’s not like I could blame people for having doubts. But we’ve been together for a bit over 20 years, now, so I hope we’ve put those doubts to rest.
I’ve written before about how wonderful Michael is. So rather than risk repeating myself, I’ll just quote one friend who observed one time when Michael pulled a tool from his pocket and casually repaired a light fixture at a mutual friend’s house, “You’re married to MacGuyver!” while another time when we had to move the huge solid oak entertainment center and Michael grabbed it and moved it before the rest of us could get in position to help him the same friend commented, “Your husband is a circus strong man!”
Michael is sweet, kind, helpful, smart, funny, cheerful, and patient. He reads novels faster than anyone I know, and retains memory of even very minor details in the books long after. He cooks incredibly well (the homemade rub he made for the ribs this weekend resulted in supernaturally good ribs, for instance!). He chops vegetables so fast it’s like watching a movie being played back sped up. It seems as if he can repair just about anything. He always finds far more awesome presents for birthdays, anniversaries, housewarmings, and the like than I ever do. And did I mention that he’s both funny and kind?
So, to extend the observation of the cashier: yeah, I’ve got myself a young man, a smart man, a hot man, a kind man, a man that anyone would feel fortunate to know, let alone be married to.
Happy Birthday, Michael. Thanks for letting me share your life!
While I agree with the sentiment behind the meme here, this actually isn’t my list. I wouldn’t turn down a million bucks, obviously. And well, certain souls do deserve some sort of torment. I love kittens and puppies and other baby animals, but the sad truth I learned many years ago is that my allergies are much less horrible if I’m not sharing living space with cats. I loved the various cats who owned me (Fiona and Woody), and those I grew up with, but I love breathing, too. Similarly cut Christmas trees aren’t good for the old bronchial tubes and sinus passages.
What’s actually on my list are lots of things that aren’t going to happen, such as Congressional Republicans finding moral spines and impeaching the traitors in the Oval Office, real peace coming to several parts of the world that haven’t known it in many years, homophobic relatives seeing the light, and so forth.
Otherwise, when I try to come up with lists, it’s fairly mundane things such as books I want to read, movies I would like to own, nice warm fuzzy socks, or some nice new Andrew Christian underwear. Things that it would be nice to have, but not that I necessarily need. I mean, yeah, socks wear out—particularly for someone like me who has to wear warm socks for medical reasons during cold parts of the year, and thus runs around the house in socks all the time. So, when I put fuzzy socks on my wish lists every year, I really appreciate the folks who get them for me.
I find myself, instead, thinking about things that I’m thankful for and things that I wish I could give to others. Yes, I gave people presents, and the gifts seem to be appreciated. But while I can go to a store and buy someone some chocolate, or that electronic thing they put on their list, or a nice sketchbook, and so on, I can’t give people the job with benefits that they really need, or a non-dysfunctional family, or just health. So I can offer my love and support.
So, this is my list, things I wish for everyone who reads this:
Merely five years ago today we were legally pronounced husband and husband, and I got to kiss Michael in front of friends and loved ones and all those people got to see me crying my eyes out.
We’d only been together for 14 years and 10 months. We weren’t one of the couples of silver-haired people who finally got to legally tie the knot after 50 or more years together. But it still deserved a non-ironic finally. And even though we had been together those years, and I had never doubted his love for me, and couldn’t fathom my life without him, there was something magical and wonderful and powerful about being able to finally call him husband legally.
I had been introducing him as my husband for years. It was a linguistic and political decision I had made before meeting him. Years before Ray died, we had had a commitment ceremony, signed some legal papers (medical power of attorney, wills, that sort of thing). And after that, I called him “my husband.” And now more than 20 years after his death, I still call him “my late husband.”
I had tried some of the other words, such as boyfriend or partner. But boyfriend sounded far less serious and fleeting than what our relationship had become. And partner—well, let’s just say that one of the times I used it, an acquaintance literally asked about the business that they thought we were joint owners. So, I started saying husband. And while that sometimes evoked nervous stuttering replies, double-takes, and even the occasional angry comment, it was the word that most accurately described our relationship. And, as I had decided a couple years earlier with the word “queer,” there is power it seizing a word and wielding it like a weapon back in the face of both the actively homophobic and the more thoughtless forms of heterosexism.
I wasn’t surprised that I cried at the wedding (and cried while we were on our way downtown three days earlier, and when strangers handed us rosebuds as we exited the license office, and when a random stranger ran up to us as we were walking away from the courthouse still carrying our roses and gushed “Congratulations!” with tears in her eyes, and when two friends surprised us with a string duet at the ceremony, and… and… and…). There’s an old idiom “he cries at card tricks” to describe those of us who are easily overcome with emotion which most definitely applies to me. But what did surprise me was how, after the ceremony, I would have a little hitch in my voice and feel the surge of my eyes getting watery—not quite tears, but definitely tearing up—whenever I said “husband” for the next several months.
I’d been calling him that (and thinking of him as that) for years, but now it was different. Because for most of my life I had thought I would never be able to legally marry the man I loved. The thought was completely unimaginable! I still have vivid memories of a film they showed us in health class, back in the mid-seventies, during the week we studied “sexual deviancy,” and the film included a scene of two men in pastel tuxedoes walking hand-in-hand down an aisle in what seemed to be a church with the narrator talking about how sexual deviation was so normalized in places like California that people pretended to get married. And it was edited to make it look like they were skipping (you could see the jumps in the flow of the image) with some ridiculous music playing. Meanwhile an entire classroom of my peers were laughing and making gagging sounds all around me.
I had lived through a small number of the most liberal cities in the country setting up domestic partnership registries that carried no actual legal rights, but gave some way to register the relationship so that an employer that decided they wanted to be magnanimous and hand out some benefits to their gay employees, there was a legal-looking paper to point to. And I’d lived through the grudging middle stages, fighting every step as the way, as we got some civil partnership or other half-assed quarter-measure acknowledgement in some states and so forth. I’d watched the bigots spend millions of dollars campaigning against civil unions, angrily insisting that it would destroy the fabric of society and so forth. I had watched, as we slowly won the hearts and minds of a growing percentage of the population, those same bigots suddenly switch to insisted the domestic/civil unions/partnerships were more than adequate and why can’t we live with that so that marriage can be reserved for something special?
So intellectually I understand why those same two syllables felt so very different after marriage equality became the law of our home state. As I said after the election, a solid majority of my fellow citizens — a whole bunch of straight people — voted to include us. They staffed phone lines to urge people to vote in favor of equality. They donated money. They showed up and voted. And then hundreds (or more) of those straight people turned up at the courthouses and county offices and so forth on those first days we could get licenses to cheer for people they didn’t know. On the first day the ceremonies could happen, a huge crowd gathered outside city hall to cheer and clap and being the receiving line for a bunch of queer couples — strangers! — who had just been joined legally in matrimony. Knowing that made me cry then. And it makes me tear up long long after any time I’m reminded of it.
Which happens to be every time I refer to my husband…
So! Today is the five-year anniversary of the day we stood in front of many of our loved ones and exchanged vows. We were pronounced husband and husband and I cried. He’s the most wonderful man I know. I really, seriously can’t quite understand why he puts up with me, let alone loves me. But I’m eternally grateful that he does.
Happy Anniversary, Michael!
A note about the title of this post: I’ve been reading the Savage Love advice column for decades, through the years before Dan Savage met his husband, Terry, when they started dating, when they adopting a kid together, when they finally legally married (in Canada), and so forth. After the Canadian wedding, Dan started referring to Terry as his husband in a very exaggerated pronunciation: “mah huzzzzben!” And I always took it as his way of being proud and a bit shocked that marriage equality had arrived in at least some places within his life time. I always thought it was cute. In a recent blog post he answered a question from a reader who felt that the weird pronunciation was an insult to Terry, or something, and Dan explained:
I started calling Terry mah huzzzzben when we got married—more than a dozen years ago—because in all honesty it felt so weird to call him that. To be able to call him that. I never expected that marriage, legal marriage, would happen in our lifetimes. And while I didn’t have a problem calling him my boyfriend, calling him my husband took some getting used to. So I played up my… well, not quite my discomfort with the word. I played up my unfamiliarity with it. It felt strange to say it—the word “husband,” unlike my husband, felt awkward in my mouth—so I said the word in an awkward way. I did what I advise my readers/listeners to do: you gotta embrace awkwardness to get past it. And I am past it now. It no longer feels strange to call Terry my husband, and I’m capable of saying the word these days without hesitation. But you know what? I like calling him mah huzzzzben. It’s less “this is weird and new and feels awkward to say!” and more “this is my own affectionate pet name for him!” And I’m gonna keep saying it.
Then a couple of nurses turned off the monitors, removed the respirator tubes, and turned off the rest of the machines.
I held Ray’s hand. I said, “Good-bye.”
I’d been crying off and on for hours—days, technically (though I’d only slept a couple hours out of the previous 59-ish, so it seemed like one really long, horrible day).
My last chronologically-in-order memory is taking hold of his hand that one last time. My memories for the next few months are like the shards of a thoroughly shattered stained glass window.
When we had our commitment ceremony several years earlier, he promised me he would stay with me for the rest of his life.
I consider myself indescribably lucky to have had that kind of love in my life. The fact that after Ray’s death I later met and fell in love with another man does nothing to reduce the sense of loss I feel when I think about Ray.