Okay, I wasn’t that precocious. I probably would have said, "Eww!" At 4, I wanted to marry my mother. But wearing an air circulation-killing bowtie and shiny black shoes made me anti-marriage.
When I was five, I spent too much time with my ear to my parent's stereo, staring at the cover of The Carpenters' debut album and listening to a sweet voice sing "We've Only Just Begun". Sorry, Mom, you’d been replaced by Karen Carpenter. My bride, my wedding song.
Somewhere during childhood, I gained a sense that marriage was for Other People. This group included bowtie haters, but I still sensed something was amiss. At weddings, I’d try to picture myself waiting at the altar for a bride to walk the aisle following a teary flower girl, either unaccustomed to all the attention or distraught over that fact that several roses had had their petals needlessly plucked. (Okay, it was wrong to impose my thought on a little Melody Cunningham.) I couldn’t imagine some woman in a veil becoming my wife. I had vague notions of feeling unworthy.
In adolescence, I fought to keep new notions vague. If you’d have told me that someday two men or two women would have the right to marry each other, I’d have said, “Inconceivable”. I was beginning to fixate on the “two men” thing, but survival was my highest aspiration. Based on a Texas Monthly article I’d read while attending high school in East Texas, I would have though it more likely that I’d be severely beaten or shot to death by drunken vigilantes.
At twenty-two, I’d just finished reading The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts. I’d bought a second-hand copy at a bookstore in Dallas and dared not look the clerk in the eye. It was an emotional read and it confirmed that murder was more likely than marriage. The AIDS crisis and Shilts’ subsequent book, And the Band Played on, led me to believe that, if not by murder, an early death was still far more likely than a wedding day.
If at any point during my eight years in Dallas/Fort Worth you’d have told me that people would create a hashtag—A what?!—saying “LoveIsLove”, I would have said, “Inconceivable.” From what I gathered, being gay was only about sex. Sinful, dirty, perverted sex.
If you’d have told me during my five years in Los Angeles when I’d make regular trips into West Hollywood to find “my kind”, that gay men could love and be supported by a majority of Americans for being themselves and indeed for being marriageable, I’d have said, “Inconceivable.” As for tweets and rainbow-hued Facebook profile pics—again, what?!—I’d have said, “Inconceivable.”
And yet here we are. 2015. A long, slow process in some respects, but a whirl of mindboggling change when I step back. It is true that a younger generation of men may take their rights to love, marry and just be for granted. And I suppose that’s as it should be. That’s what we worked toward. In another generation, I hope being gay and gay love will be entirely normalized. No “gay love”, just love.
Whew. The talk is of acceptance, not just tolerance. And, yes, the change is remarkable. I am still of a generation that remembers otherwise. Being shunned for so long has had a major impact and continues to define who I am. But I feel the excitement and gratitude. I hadn’t dared to dream that what should be would be. It was inconceivable.
Until it wasn’t.