Being queer just got a little less queer in Pennsylvania. While we LGBT folks still have all sorts of quirky variances in our mosaic of sexual and gender minorities, we are now allowed to get married to the human being of our choosing and form a family. That’s rather … normal, and a new experience for me.
Specifically, I am intrinsically different than most people on earth: I’m a man who falls in love with other men. As a result of trivial physical details, biology prevents me from coupling with another man and easily creating a child or forming a family. That is, biology prevents me from forming a family in the most outdated, unfair sense of the word.
As homosexuality and like differences occur in nearly all species on earth, I don’t harbor any anger at the universe or god for making me gay. As our great American philosopher-queen Lady Gaga says, “It doesn’t matter if you love him or capital ‘H’-i-m ... you were born this way, baby.”
The oddest part about this whole hullabaloo is that I never figured marriage was for me. Obviously, because I was not legally allowed to marry a man, I thought I’d have to seek out something other than traditional concepts of family. Coming of age in the 1990s, I thought that all gay men were single, neurotic and only hung around with alcoholic fag-hags like Karen Walker. I mean, that’s really the only public expression American society allowed gay men to cling to during the Clinton administration.
After all, President Clinton himself enthusiastically signed the now-unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act during that decade. And if Bill Clinton didn’t think I was a human being deserving of the same marital bliss—ahem—he had, then surely being gay meant something other than traditional, monogamous marriage.
Despite 1990s Clintonian queasiness with my identity, I’m being true to my nature when I form emotional and sexual relationships with other men. Now, however, these relationships find legal recognition from the state of Pennsylvania. That takes this notion to another, much deeper level.
I had no idea how deep this level was until the ruling last week. In fact, now that it’s off my back, codified discrimination appears to have seriously weighed me down in the past. I only know this because of its obvious absence. Like gaining weight, the pernicious burden of discrimination accumulates slowly and gradually over time, so slowly you don’t notice it until one day you realize you’re waddling down Walnut Street.
For at least two decades, this weight held me down spiritually and emotionally. Consider it this way: I carried this resentment toward American society as though it were a bag of rocks slung over my shoulder. The first rock I collected was when I noticed that other people noticed I was different. In elementary school, my bullies seemed to know I was gay before even I did. While “faggot” was a common schoolyard taunt for all boys, I in particular received the label more than my peers. They knew.
So, I picked up that rock, one marked “Stop looking at me; stop calling me a faggot; I hate my peers and am undeserving of friendship.” Later, I picked up another, this one tagged “Why won’t my teachers make this stop? Obviously, people in authority don’t think I’m a worthwhile human being. Since they’re authority figures, they must be right: I am worthless.”
When I first reached puberty, I tossed another rock in my bag: “Why do I have to shamefully hide my sexual desires? Why does this feel so wrong whenever I masturbate? I guess I’m disgusting; after all, American society says I’m queer and different and not allowed to have a family. Bill Clinton says so, too. And, my dad voted for Bill Clinton. So, my dad hates me, too.”
In adolescence, I picked up a whole bundle of rocks. “I’m not allowed to get married, and conservative family-values types obsess about my going to hell. Obviously, I cannot be a conservative, and I cannot be a person of faith.” This was logically followed up with “I should just seek out meaningless sexual encounters and perhaps numb the loneliness by vacillating between spectacularly questionable decisions or irrational, soul-crushing perfectionism.”
When I was an adult man, I mingled with other men similarly traumatized by a then-still-too-large amount of straight society’s generally careless disregard for queers. Because many of us had higher rates of substance abuse, addiction and mental disorders, you can imagine how that went.
So, there I was, walking around Philadelphia with a bag of resentment-ridden rocks weighing me down, impeding my journey upward through the American dream. I wasn’t alone in this miserable slog against straight society’s discriminatory burden, either. A science-based organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says that queer people “have higher rates of substance abuse [and] are less likely to abstain from alcohol and drug use” and “are more likely to continue heavy drinking into later life.” The CDC, again a public, fact-based organization, also says that queer youth are “at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, suicide attempts and suicide.”
I can only speak for myself as a gay man, but I’d say that one thing I’ve always secretly wanted from society was validation.
I had no idea how powerfully I had internalized this “lesser than” status in all areas of my life until it was no longer the case. Simultaneous to the same-sex marriage decision by federal Judge John Jones III and the perhaps politically-calculated or perhaps-enlightened decision by Gov. Tom Corbett to not challenge the court’s ruling, I had an epiphany. The sky opened up, I cried a little bit, and a weight that I had held since I was a lad lifted off my shoulders. It seemed to fall almost in its entirety immediately. I dropped that bag of rocks in the Schuylkill and skipped down Walnut Street.
Now, I’m not saying the pains of carrying that load are forever gone. And, I’m not saying I won’t have a bad day. I’m saying that now I feel truly equal under the law for the first time in my entire life. More importantly, for the first time, the state says I’m OK. This has led to many folks making lots of loud noises in the state, mostly in support of the ruling, but some against it.
For those who feel the need to perform verbal gymnastics to justify their homophobia and dress it up in flowery language, I have to say that your pathetic hate is obvious. It becomes more awkward and painfully clear the more legal mumbo-jumbo you sputter out to justify a simple fact: You are a bigot. You should likely keep your opinions to yourself or expect to no longer receive cocktail-party invitations. I think you should watch Frozen and sing along to “Let It Go.”
For those happily malcontented queer people who say marriage is only a word and it doesn’t matter: It matters to some of us, so get over yourselves.
For those who support gay marriage now or, in the past, have always supported me and my fellow queer people: Thank you.