Marriage Equality: Two Years Later

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Today marks the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell vs. Hodges decision that granted the legal right to wed to same-sex couples across the nation. I recall hearing the news while I was at work. At first I was numb. I didn’t actually believe it. My hands shook. I cried. I reached out to my LGBT friends and colleagues through social media and our interoffice instant messaging system. While most of us were separated by hundreds of miles, I never felt closer to them. The long arc of the moral universe that bends toward justice, as described by Dr. King, finally bent close enough for us to feel it. Suddenly the world felt like a different place. In that one SCOTUS decision, everything changed.

And at the same time, nothing changed. While I suddenly had the right to marry, a social construct that is nearly universally expected, and one which around entire lives are planned, it still didn’t seem like a possibility for me. A single moment in time didn’t change that. I’d never dreamed of it or planned for it. I still don’t feel ready: emotionally, psychologically, or financially.

Society hasn’t really changed that much in two years either. While we’ve made some progress certainly, I still see my life, my rights, my worth as a human being up for debate everywhere I look. Nearly every news cycle has a story on upcoming legislation that would legalize discrimination against me. It’s on Facebook. If a company runs an advertising campaign featuring same-sex couples or they show support for the LGBT community during Pride, there are thousands of comments condemning me to hell or likening me to a child molester or criminal. When an attack is made on us or our establishments, it’s more of the same. Religious leaders instruct their priests and ministers to withhold funeral services from us. It’s even in the technology forums I visit. Sometimes I really just want to geek out and I’m faced with discussion threads like, “Is homosexuality wrong?” and “Is it okay to refuse service to a gay person?” I cannot adequately express just how inescapable and exhausting it is to see the value of your life constantly up for debate. And because of the anniversary of this landmark decision, and because June is Gay Pride month, today will be more of the same.

On a day I should be celebrating, the fact that I have to be careful how far I scroll or where I click is just one reason on top of a hundred why sometimes I am just tired. I am known for my sunny, happy-go-lucky disposition, but maintaining that day in and day out isn’t as easy as I make it look.

Most days I hide my struggle from you, but in doing so I also enable you to contribute to it.

It’s a heavy, double-edged sword all gay people carry.

On Coming Out

On some level, I’ve always known I was gay, even if I didn’t have a word for it. Some of my earliest memories from childhood were of awkward struggles to relate to the other boys around me. Those I struggled to relate to the most were those boys who, even at the age of ten, had an aura of budding masculinity. They were always tan, and showed early aptitude for athleticism. I was a blond-haired mama’s boy with pinkish skin that would turn red or white, depending on the season. And my skin was thin. I cried when I had to be away from my mother for an extended period of time. Sleepovers. The first few days of kindergarten. Church camp. I had separation anxiety before shelter dogs made it fashionable.

I always knew something was different about me, and my mom and my sister were the only two people with whom I felt completely safe. They provided me with a sense of security, and maybe even more importantly–a sense of Oel ngati kameie. In the fictional Na’vi language from the movie Avatar, it means “I see you” not just in the sensory perceptive way, but in the “I understand you” way.

So at the tender age of 24 when I was ready to come out, it only made sense that I would tell them first, specifically my sister Karen. She had recently began telling me that there isn’t anything I could say or do that would make her love me any less—not in subtle ways, but literally saying that out loud at the end of our frequent phone conversations. What I didn’t realize immediately is that she was practically begging me to come out. It was the closest she could come to saying, “I know you’re gay and it’s okay,” without coming right out and saying it, on the off chance that I didn’t know I was gay. Because of this, I knew she would be a good litmus test for how my family would accept the fact that my 20-year “awkward” phase wasn’t really a phase. I was going to be awkward for the rest of my life.

While I had a tentative plan to tell her, my need to tell someone kind of came to a boil when my first serious boyfriend broke up with me right around my birthday. Hands trembling, I picked up the phone and dialed her number. Already fighting back tears, when I heard her say “Hello” my tear dam started to burst. Picture every natural disaster movie where you’ve seen this happen. There is a low rumbling sound. Geysers of water shoot outward from fissures that appear on the surface of the damn. Suddenly, a piece of concrete the size of a Hyundai blasts free, and the dam crumbles with the weight of tears that have been held for too long. I struggled to find my voice. She knew immediately something was wrong. And while I don’t recall the specifics of the conversation after that point, it did involve me telling her that I was gay. And as cliché as it sounds, it was a tremendous weight off of my shoulders. The weight of that secret is unimaginable until you’ve carried it, this worry of the very real possibility of being rejected by your family because of who you are at your core. It is completely terrifying to risk the longest love you’ve ever known.

After talking a while, I asked Karen if she thought I should tell our mom.

“Yes, because she kind of already knows,” was not quite the answer I was expecting. When pressed, my sister said that they talk about me quite frequently, each asking the other if I had come out yet. Perhaps if my family had played poker more frequently than New Year’s Eve, they’d have made a friendly wager. Feeling relieved, I hung up and called my mom. Again, many of the specifics of the conversation escape me. While I felt confident that her love for me wouldn’t waver, I was about to utter words that would not only change my world but also hers. In a moment, she would grieve my wedding and any grandchildren she’d been looking forward to me giving her, and I was keenly aware of that. In order to protect myself from the pain of a negative reaction, my brain blocked out most of that conversation. I remember my mom being quiet for a moment, and then telling me she already knew. She asked if I was scared of getting sick, a thinly-veiled reference to AIDS, the disease that had robbed my family of my brother Robbie barely 10 years before.

I guess now would be a good time to mention that my oldest brother was also gay. I was only 13 years old when he died at the age of 25. He had come out to my dad on Christmas Eve. Both of them had been drinking, and it didn’t end well. It wasn’t a smart choice, and should he and I meet in any manner of afterlife you can bet, “What the fuck were you thinking!?” is going to be one of the first things I say to him, quickly followed by a hug and “Thank you.” My family didn’t handle Robbie’s coming out well. He was estranged off and on from our family. They got it right the second time with me, but only because Robbie taught them about love, loss, and second chances.

After telling mom, I called Karen back to fill her in. I told her that I had left it up to mom as to whether or not to tell her husband. He came from a Southern Baptist background, and I didn’t want to cause any problems in their marriage, especially since I lived 8 hours away. We were discussing how we thought he may react when the call waiting kicked in. “Hang on, it’s Mom again.” It was at this point that I realized that real life indeed sometimes unfolds just as it would in a scene from Will & Grace or Modern Family.

I clicked over to the other line. “Hello?” I said, expecting to hear my mom’s voice. “Well son, it don’t make no difference to me,” I heard my stepdad say in his booming voice, thick with an accent that seems to come uniquely from the part of Missouri where I was raised. I laughed nervously, completely caught off guard, and then he put my mom on the line. She had decided to tell him, and he was fine. I then asked mom what she thought about me telling my brother Roger. She said she thought he would be okay with it, but I wanted to think about it a little bit longer. We hung up and I stood in the silence of my apartment, feeling like a different person than I did an hour ago. I began to gather my thoughts, thinking about what I needed to do to prepare for the next day when the phone rang again. I looked at the caller ID and saw that it was my brother. A smile grew across my face as I realized what was happening. As I was in my apartment in Cincinnati, emotionally exhausted, the phone lines began to light up in rural Missouri for what was going to be an epic night of the Telephone Game. My mom had called my brother to tell him, and I believe it was the first of many calls she made that night. Because I don’t recall having to come out to the rest of my family. Ever. Aunts, uncles, cousins—all knew and none seemed to care. It never occurred to me to ask my mom why she did that. Whether she confided in them for her own support, or wanted to spare me further awkward conversations, I am grateful that she never expected me to hide who I was from anyone.

I tell this story, with too many words for it to be as late as it is, because it’s June. There are more Gay Pride celebrations in June in the United States than any other month. One of the reasons we celebrate Pride, in addition to defending our hard-won civil rights, is visibility. Before I came out, I often felt alone. Yes, I had friends, but they were compartmentalized into gay friends, church friends, friends from high school, work friends—each knowing only a facet of me. But there was no one who had known me my whole life, the real me, all of me, until I made the choice to share that with them.

Oel ngati kameie. I see you too.

Passages

My uncle Ira passed away last night. He was 78 years old. My aunt Shirley, his wife, passed in December of 2015. They were two of my favorite people growing up. Ira was my dad’s brother. Growing up, our families were always together because we were always camping or getting together for a holiday. Some of my favorite memories are of New Year’s Eve when we would gather at their house. The adults and older cousins would stay in the kitchen, playing poker and drinking and celebrating. I would be in the other room watching Dick Clark. I am 6 – 12 years younger than my older siblings and cousins, and while at ages 43 and 49 the gap doesn’t seem like much, at 7 and 13 it might as well have been 20 years. The distance between some of us, though, has carried over into adulthood. I’m not that close to as many of my siblings and cousins as I would like to be. It may be why the TV show Smallville always resonated with me; at times I feel like an alien in my own family.

I’m awaiting news of funeral arrangements so I can head down to Missouri. There is a snow storm on the way, so there’s a possible wrinkle, but I want to go to be there for my cousins and my dad. My dad is the youngest, and by the time the week is up he will have buried his parents, his older sister, and his two older brothers. He’s the last one. It’s this, perhaps, that weighs on my heart more than anything. It’s the natural order of things, to bury your parents. As the youngest child, it’s even the natural order of things to bury your older siblings. But as the youngest child, the thought of it scares the hell out of me. I can’t imagine anything that happens in the next 30 years making it okay. I guess it’s never “okay” to lose someone you love, but I don’t know how you make it through that kind of loss again, again, and again.

Maybe that’s the tradeoff of being the youngest. Spoiled and sometimes favored as a child, it becomes your place to watch those you love die, one by one, until you’re the only one left. I think I’d rather be the forgotten middle child, or the put-open oldest child. But the perks of being the youngest are short lived and do not compare to the grief you eventually experience.

RIP, Uncle Ira, pictured below in the tan suit.

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Unsure Where to Start

Last night as Dan and I watched the election results unfold on television as Trump began to rack up an electoral college win, I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t believe that it was happening. We both said little as it became apparent what was going to happen, what we would wake up to.

I drove home in silence. No radio. No iTunes. Just the sound of my tires thumping down the road and my own scattered thoughts rattling in my head.

When I got home, I turned on the TV and looked at FB to see if there had been any last-minute surprises. There were not. I was up very late, unable to sleep until about 4:30 AM. I woke up at 7:00 AM to the sound of my alarm. Unlike every other morning for as long as I can remember, I didn’t immediately open my eyes. I lay there with the alarm chiming and my eyes closed. I was afraid to open my eyes. For a few blissful moments, I didn’t have to face a world where the electorate decided that a racist, sexist, misogynistic, pussy-grabbing, xenophic megalomaniac sexual predator was fit for the presidency of the United States.

Ultimately I decided to open my eyes and turn off the alarm and contemplate my next steps. In my department, at my level of management, 3/5 of my team are LGBT. One already called in sick. Now I had to decide whether I would too. One of the signs of privilege is that you don’t have to worry about your individual speech and actions being considered representative of others like you. Minorities don’t have this luxury. We have to decide if we’re going to be the angry black woman, the militant Deaf person, or the weak gay person who can’t handle it when the going gets rough. Knowing one of us had already called off, the remaining two of us decided that we would go to work, despite feeling angry, sad, and scared at the betrayal we suffered at the hands of our fellow citizens. Sometimes individual self expression isn’t an option for us.

I did text my boss and say that, for obvious reasons, I would be late. I looked at Facebook for a bit, and then took a long hot shower. I got dressed, stopped for coffee, and then headed into the office. Over the course of the day, I’ve heard stories of the KKK marching on bridges in their hoods, and minorities being accosted in Starbucks and being told, “This is Trump’s America!! Get out!”

I don’t know what will happen next, only what I will do next. I know that most people look at me and see a funny, if meek, unimposing gay man. That’s okay. I’m soft and kind and it’s generally how I like to live. But when pushed, I have ire in me. I’m an Owens and Wells, neither surname associated with even temperament. If the fight is brought to us, we. will. rise.

What Keeps Me Up

I always tell people that I’m a horrible insomniac, and when I do I realize it’s a line from one of my favorite movies (that my brain just told me I should watch at 3:41 AM since I’m already awake), Kissing Jessica Stein. That movie is smart and funny and gay.

Jessica, who is a neurotic Jewish girl, tells her date Helen, “I’m a horrible insomniac.”

“Since when?” Helen asks.

“I don’t know, birth?” Jessica says.

Anyway…it’s true. Mostly. Except when I’m with Dan. I can always sleep well with him at his house, but I can never sleep when I’m at my house.

I’m not sure what keeps me up. It’s always something different. Sometimes I’m thinking about my job and the parts of it that are hard. There are days I can’t remember to zip my fly, and yet the powers that be at work gave me a training program to manage.

Thinking about the upcoming election and wondering how people can publicly support Trump. I don’t even really understand private support of him, but public support still alternately baffles and angers me. You would really put his name on your car? In your yard? Do you know what reasonable people like me think about you when I pass your car on the interstate or drive past your house? It’s not good, folks. Not good.

Sometimes I can’t sleep because I remember I have a Coach wallet that I like, but I don’t know where it is. So I turn my apartment upside down looking for it, only to end up frustrated, obsessed, and Coach-less. How did I end up with the completely useless OCD of wondering where obscure accessories are instead of something helpful like an obsession with cleanliness? Sometimes it’s a wallet. Sometimes it’s spare wax guards for my hearing aids. Or an iPhone case I don’t even really like. Also, my fingernail OCD (they have to always be really, really short) is not helpful or personally beneficial.

Other times I can’t sleep because I’m fat and I wonder why. I’ve been thin and fat several times in my life, and I know that thin is better for me. And as I lie in bed and type this, the dated face of the jack-o-lantern that has been in uninterrupted production since the 1950s  stares back at me, half full of Halloween candy that is in bed with me. I’m sleeping with a pumpkin full of candy. This is why I’m fat. Mystery solved.

And now it’s 3:54 AM and I can’t sleep because I am afraid of oversleeping and missing my 9 AM audiology appointment. At this point, I always debate with myself which is better: stay awake and be on time, or sleep and possibly be late.

I’m also awake because I thought I smelled a warm electronics smell, but I’ve searched my apartment and nothing seems warm or on fire. I think it’s a phantom smell. But I can’t really convince my brain of that, even though it’s intermittent.

I also spent a good deal of time searching for a blog that I used to read in 2004. I found it and read all of the posts that I loved and it’s just as funny. Blogging seems outdated now, in the age of Facebook. Maybe I’ll crosspost this to Facebook and see what kind of reaction I get. I don’t think anyone knows that I’m blogging again, and if I tip them off I’ll feel obligated to blog more so maybe I’ll just keep it a secret for now. Or start with Twitter, which is basically like keeping it a secret because no one follows me on there.

4:05 AM and I think I should really make a decision to sleep or not. 4:08 now and I’m out of things to wonder and write about. I’m either going to be watching Kissing Jessica Stein or sleeping. Maybe I’ll start watching and fall asleep. Now I’m wondering how much blue light my TV emits, making it harder to sleep. My iPad would be better, with Night Shift mode or whatever. But it’s in my work backpack and would require getting up. And wasn’t there a movie called “Night Shift”? Was it any good? Maybe it was a TV show. Should I check?

This is what keeps me up.

 

On Elections

I remember eight years ago well. I remember four years ago much more vividly. It was the first time that the votes of others felt like a personal attack on me. As an LGBT person, there was much at stake. We anticipated, rightly so, that the fate of millions of same-sex relationships would be decided in some manner by the election. Even though it was ultimately the Supreme Court that decided marriage equality was the law of the land, the political climate was definitely influenced by the President.

When Obama was running against Romney, I didn’t think the division between conservatives and liberals could get any deeper. Four years later, we find ourselves as a nation at war with itself. Again. This time though, it feels as though we’re on the precipice of another civil war. A civil war between decency and filth. Integrity and dishonesty. Liberty and dictatorship.

What I find frustrating is the inconsistency of many of the conservatives I know. For years now, they’ve ran on the platform of Christian family values. To me it’s always seemed a little tongue-in-cheek since every week it seems one is involved in a sex scandal (often gay) or they’re prosecuted for crimes. But they talked the talk, even if they couldn’t walk the walk. Then as soon as a most un-Christlike man wins the GOP nomination, a man who has cheated on every wife he’s had (three to date), suddenly family values isn’t that important in a candidate. Apparently, neither is Christianity, since there isn’t a shred of evidence that Trump aspires to be a Christian.

Today I unfollowed a long-time friend of mine on Facebook. She and I went to high school together; she was one of my best friends. We each went off to a Christian college. She married a youth pastor and they have a few children. The other day, she posted an anti-Clinton article. This piqued my curiosity, so I looked back at all of her posts for the month of October. There were several denouncing Clinton (a Methodist who has been married to one man for many years), a couple of posts about supporting 3rd party candidates, but not one single post in criticism of Trump. Trump mocked a disabled man, bragged about sexually assaulting women, is going on trial for rape in December, cheated on every wife he’s had…none of that is deserving of a word of criticism? None of that raises the eyebrow of a pastor’s wife? She’s really more concerned about a non-existent email scandal?

This is my biggest issue of this election. Conservatives want to be viewed as the moral authority of this country. They believe that all United States citizens should adhere to their belief system, that our nation’s laws should reflect their beliefs. They want to repeal civil rights for gay and lesbian citizens because of their “sinful lifestyle.” And yet, they can’t even bring themselves to call out a racist sexual predator who mocks the disabled when he’s running for the highest office in the land.

Take a stand against sin, fine. But it had better be all sin, regardless of who commits it. Your picking and choosing the sins you speak out against to fit your agenda is reprehensible.  I don’t have any respect for you. Your religion is a charade. You have no authority, moral or otherwise, to speak to me about sin because you have no integrity.