Yep. It’s true.
I have never written a serious blog post about being gay. I mean, it’s part of who I am, but it isn’t all there is to me and I am not defined or labeled by it. To me it’s sort of like talking about what color eyes I have. My eyes are there, but I don’t spend hardly any time thinking about them, let alone talking about them. But… I am gay. It’s not all that I am, but I am, and I have something to say about it now. I think it’s time.
For years I had no idea I was gay. I dated guys in high school and into my first year of college. Had a serious boyfriend during most of that time. I didn’t know anyone who was gay, never saw anyone on TV or in the movies who was gay besides the occasional annoying totally stereotyped male, and even those guys were few and far between. In my home when those characters showed up on TV derogatory comments were made by my step dad. Though he didn’t have that sole role. When kids at school happened to talk about someone who was gay, or someone they thought was gay, that person was called queer. Most of the time the person being called queer wasn’t even gay. The term was just used to put someone down. I heard it a lot in the halls, never in reference to me, but I heard it a lot. I never liked it, or it’s use, just as I’ve never liked any derogatory term said to anyone in pretty much any context. Even still, when I heard it I didn’t think it might pertain to me. Had no clue. When you don’t even really know of a thing how can you know you are that. It wasn’t even in my realm of possibility. Then… suddenly and unexpectedly I met someone in college. And even still, even then, I didn’t know. I just thought I liked that particular person. You know, I’m straight, it’s just that I happen to unexpectedly fall in love with a woman. I even lied to my Mom when she asked me about it when I was 18. I lied because I hadn’t even really asked myself that question. Had no clue about myself. That lie was the first in a long line of lies. Lies to myself. Lies to family and friends and pretty much everyone I loved. I didn’t really know, or look at that part of my life seriously until I was into my 30′s. Am I or am I not. I finally realized I was. Had always been. That realization made a lot of things from my life make sense, fall into place. A sort of ah ha. And yet, still I lied, at least for a time I did. But let’s go back a bit… back to the younger confused me. Those lies took their toll.
Let me tell you why a gay person lies. We lie because we are sure no one will love us if we tell the truth. We don’t love ourselves very much some of the time during the early years of knowing we are gay because we, frankly, don’t want to be, so the thought process goes that certainly no one else will love us either. Especially when society, and my time was the 80′s and 90′s, was still not welcoming, open, accepting. My step dad didn’t have the monopoly on bigotry and the atmosphere during the 80′s (when the AIDS epidemic hit) and 90′s was not kind to gay people. So not only was I afraid people in my life wouldn’t love me, that they would reject me just for being me, but that I could also be hurt, physically. Not by family or friends or people I knew, but by the mysterious and threatening other people. Those people out there somewhere who, if they found out, would hurt me. There was always a fear. Fear of so many things. And a total wish that I wasn’t gay. Believe me, when people say it’s a choice, I get angry. If the people who say that would think for a second, they should realize something important, and that is why would anyone choose to be gay. It’s harder. It’s sometimes unsafe. And frankly, having to live your life looking over your shoulder some of the time, not being able to hold hands, or look too gay in public in some places, is hard. It can wear a person down. Having to actually think about things like those, things like safety or being found out, things like I hope no one in this particular setting realizes I’m a big ol’ gay. (That just made me laugh, but seriously… we think about it. We have to.) And when I say we all go through periods where we think to ourselves we don’t want to be gay, usually early in our lives or the process of knowing we are gay, it’s that we don’t want to be different. When you’re young, and even not so young, the last thing you want to be is different than your peers, your family, your community, your culture. Young people, and old alike I guess, all want to fit in. Want a place. Knowing your gay, when faced with so much obvious hate in the media, in communities, in our own towns and neighborhoods is a thing no one wants to face. When I realized I was gay a bit of sadness happened for me. I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to be like everyone else. And I knew life would be a tad more difficult… sometimes a lot more difficult. So at first most of us lie. Mostly to ourselves I think, out of a weird self protection and denial, then because we are panicked that if the people we love know they will stop loving us, and we lie in certain situations, still, because if we are openly gay in some places we could die. No joke. That’s part of the out and out vitriol that’s out there for gay people in some places. It’s part of the culture that has jailed and beaten and ridiculed and cast out gay people for decades. And before someone says you can feel you are gay, but you could choose not to be by just living a “normal” straight life, here’s what that would be like just a bit. Say you are single and someone introduces you to a person they feel is right for you. You have no connection with them at all. You feel they are nice enough, and that maybe you could even be friends, but you have no interest in dating them. Or you might even detest them. Then say that you are told that’s the person you have to be with. You have no feelings of love for them at all, but you have to be with them in order to be accepted by your family, your friends, your community. Take a second to imagine what it would feel like to be living that lie. To be living a completely inauthentic life. Trapped. Forced into something you feel isn’t right with every part of your being. Now magnify that feeling of being forced to be with someone you don’t care for by about 1000 times. That doesn’t even come close to it. Being forced to be anything other than we are is soul crushing.
When I finally decided to be free, to embrace who I was, I decided to tell people in my life. I did not want to hide. I wanted what everyone wants, a partner in life, to be a family with someone. I wanted that and I didn’t want to lie to anyone anymore, I couldn’t. They would either love me, because seriously, I was the same person, or they wouldn’t, but I had to be in my truth, as the saying goes. There were some obstacles to my telling people when I originally wanted to, circumstances beyond my control, but I eventually just had to tell. Had to be honest and open. Plus, by the time I told everyone I had already met someone. I didn’t want to have another secret relationship, changing pronouns, talking vaguely about how I went out with a friend, etc., etc., etc. Hiding. I didn’t want to hide. So I started the process of telling people, of coming out.
First I told Mom, who cried not because I was gay, but because I hadn’t felt like I could tell her earlier in life. She hugged me, asked if the person I was with was Karen (they had already met when I’d brought my “friend” to an art show we attended together), and then said she’d liked her a lot. I then had dinner with Kev, my brother, at a Thai place. I told him and he said, uh… yes, of course you are and I love you. My being gay didn’t change anything for them, but my telling them changed everything for me. And all the people I told in the next month or so changed everything as well. I was suddenly free and gaining momentum. It was like the sun was shining on me for the first time in my life. I felt truly connected, grounded, real. I felt honest and true. I continued by telling everyone at my job (all of whom were my friends as well), and the domino effect happened. Within a couple of months everyone in my life knew. My Mom, right after I told her, insisted on calling many of the relatives and telling them herself. She asked me beforehand of course, but she was adamant that she make some of the calls. I loved this because she wanted to be the one to call so she could let them know that she was OK with it and that they should be too. She ran interference. Mom rocks, just sayin’. My grandparents, my Mom’s parents, were awesome. My grandma’s quote as relayed by my Mom, “It’s about time”. I love that. After the tidal wave of talks and chats and dinners a weird thing happened… everyone, with only one exception, accepted me. They all loved me, and they didn’t care. And even if some were a tad weirded out in the beginning, they quickly came to the realization that I was the same person, Tam. Just because I was also now gay Tam didn’t mean I had somehow fundamentally changed who I was. Not every gay person is lucky like I have been. Some tell their truth and find rejection and hostility from their families. My heart aches for them. It’s the very thing each gay person fears when they come out and for some it’s a startling reality.
I think it’s easy to say that something you don’t understand is wrong. I think it’s easy for people who don’t know anyone who is gay, or at least they don’t think they do, to judge, be angry, or even be frightened. Especially when they might be taught that fear by their parents or their communities or their places of faith. I think we hardly ever see the boogeyman, and that’s what makes him scary. In my experience people change when they have more knowledge. They change when they have a better understanding. They change when they are around the things they think they hate and then find they maybe don’t hate them as much as they thought they did and more than that, maybe they don’t hate them at all. We do better when we know better. I believe this. Karen I usually find that when people meet us, as a couple, and maybe at first are cautious or unsettled by the fact that we are gay, they soon come around. We’re pretty likable. On a good day we can even be a tad charming. We make a good team. Plus we are genuine and nice and compassionate and open. When people are around us we may start out as gay Tam and Karen, but we always end up just being Tam and Karen. Not a gay couple, just a couple. And when that shift happens for people gay becomes less scary, less evil, and less threatening. It becomes not quite such a big deal as it once might have been.
Here’s the deal… I’m living my life. Just like everyone else. We go to the grocery store, have barbecues with our friends and family, go to our grandsons little gym graduations, take him swimming at the Y, work during the day and watch the same televisions shows as a lot of other people at night. We take our dogs for walks, are preparing for retirement as best we can, we go to the movies, support our local university teams at games, plan dinners, drink coffee, and make contributions to charities. We fill the bird feeders at our house, water our neighbors plants when they go out of town, take out the garbage every Sunday night, and when we each got sick we took care of each other. We are a family, together. And our being a family is no threat to anyone else. We are living our lives. We are nice people, treat people well, and we love to laugh.
We also pay taxes, more than other couples in fact because we can’t file as married. We pay into social security but can’t get the same benefit of getting each other’s social security in the future if we wanted to. We pay property taxes and state tax and gas tax and on and on. We pay everything we’re supposed to, and trust me our tax bill is big every year, and yet we are not afforded the same rights and privileges for the money we pay. Not exactly fair. But it’s our life, and it goes on. It went on even when we each got really sick, separately, and had to provide all kinds of paperwork, faxed by our attorney, to the hospital so the hospital would have it on file in the event we had to make decisions for each other. Legally married couples don’t have to do that. They say they’re married, that’s good enough. They don’t have to stop in the middle of all the intensity of just being with their partner in the hospital to deal with making sure they have all the proper paperwork that proves they can be there. Trust me, in a time of crisis the last thing you want to have to do is call the attorney to get paperwork so you can talk to your spouse’s doctor and not be asked to leave the room. I stayed with Karen for a week when she had terrible pneumonia. She was in critical condition. I slept and ate at the hospital and I didn’t leave her side. I helped her in and out of bed, talked to her nurses, discussed her situation with her doctor, cared for her. She stayed with me for that first month I was in the hospital, leaving me for only one night during that entire time, and every week I had to go back after, without a thought that she would do anything else. She actually worked from the hospital while at the same time caring for me, talking to my doctors and nurses, and trying to sleep every night on a small air mattress on a tiny bed in my room. The hospital staff, on each of those separate floors, knew us by name, treated us well, and were very kind. But we had to get our paperwork in order first, not so they would be nice, luckily I think all of those people would’ve been nice to us without the paperwork, but it was what the hospital wanted for same sex couples. And luckily we already had the paperwork done. I can’t imagine not already having it and having to get it done during those times. What a nightmare. We were, like any couple who loves each other, frightened and a bit lost each of those times. Having to get all that extra paperwork didn’t help.
It’s strange to me how, just because of who I love, I can be seen as wrong or bad or somehow really different. Our lives are so normal and regular, and believe me, that’s what we want, and what most gay people want, to have a regular life. In fact our lives are so regular that in our day to day it doesn’t much occur to us that we are gay. You know, we don’t go around saying to ourselves we’re gay. In fact Karen and I joke with each other once in awhile… we’re gay?, really? We are of course, but the point is that we don’t define ourselves like that. We see ourselves as any other family. Our families and friends see us just like all the other families that make up our larger group. I’m Karen’s sister’s and brother’s sister-in-law, her parents daughter-in-law, she is my Mom’s daughter-in-law and my siblings sister-in-law, not the gay sister-in-law. Everyone we meet and get to know eventually sees us as just another couple they know, not a gay couple, a couple. So it’s strange and awkward for me to think there are people out there who don’t like me for just loving who I love. People who don’t want me to be able to marry. Honestly, why do they care?
Here’s the thing about marriage…. which I guess was my point in talking about all of this to begin with. If an individual is a religious person, I get that maybe according to their interpretation of the bible they may feel marriage isn’t OK for gay people. Church rules, personal interpretations of the bible, or whatever it may be. But if that’s the case then simply don’t let gay people get married in their churches. What’s wrong with letting other churches decide differently? What’s wrong with letting other pastors decide that marrying gay people in their churches is OK? Also, if someone feels like by letting gay people marry the world would go to hell, well frankly, that isn’t your call. If they would read the bible there’s an important tenet that says judge not lest ye be judged. Meaning do not judge others, that’s for God, not them. If they really feel like I’m going to hell because I’m gay, which I don’t believe by the way, then I don’t think that’s supposed to be their call either. I think God is supposed to decide, be the ultimate decision maker. I believe it’s also a part of the rules that you should not act as if you know God’s heart and mind. That would be presumptuous and vain, right? It’s a sin to think you can speak for God, make decisions that are supposed to be God’s decisions. At least that’s what I’ve been told. Love they neighbor and all. Right? How can love be wrong? And what does my loving someone have to do with anyone else? So why should it matter if I can marry the person I love? Who does it hurt? Why does that matter to anyone but me? Me and my family that is. I think my Mom would love to attend my wedding. She would love to walk me down the aisle. And if she did, why would that matter to anyone else? What does it hurt? I, for the life of me, don’t get it. And before someone says wait just one second, if we allow gay marriage then it will spread throughout the land, everyone will start doing it. C’mon, that’s ridiculous. Straight daughters or sons are not suddenly going to marry someone of the same sex just because they can. It’s absurd to think so. Maybe a gay daughter or son will, but legalizing marriage for gay people will not spur on a rash of non-gay people marrying same sex persons. That thought just makes me laugh.
I don’t know why social politics have become such a part of the national landscape in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Separation of church and state anyone? Not legislating things that should be personal. We’re supposed to be a world leader, forward thinking, on the right side of what is just and civil and, well… right. What happened to that? It would be so refreshing to look at the candidates in any race and not have to wade through who is for or against me. Because, believe me, that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m looking at the candidates and saying to myself, they are either for me or against me. I see people I know supporting the candidate who is totally against letting me get married and I think to myself why? It makes me sad. I’m sorry, but it does. I know there are differences in belief about economics and education and how this country should be run, I get that and respect differing opinions, but to me this is personal. Very. Because trust me, on this side of things it looks exactly like the same old things… anger, hate, and fear. It looks like exclusion. It feels like discrimination. It feels like I’m being treated as “them”. You know “them”. They have worn different faces throughout history, but they have been very much the same. Regular people that for some reason have been considered less than, not equal, not worthy of laws to protect them, of laws that include them. So yes, for me it’s personal. I can’t legally marry the woman I love, which hurts no one by the way, because someone somewhere thinks I’m not worthy of that. It disgusts me, as all discrimination has and does disgust me. Because you know what, I am the same as everyone else, and no one should have the right to dictate who I love and who I can marry. My mind boggles at the sheer amount of money spent on stopping me from being able to marry. It’s unbelievable really. All the money that could be spent on other things… education, the environment, revamping some of our systems that are actually broken. I’m not broken, don’t try to fix me, or put the fix on me. Stop trying to legislate my life. I want to ask the people who keep putting forward these bills who they think they are? How arrogant to think you know what’s best for everyone else. How completely egotistic and pompous. Why not spend those millions and millions of dollars on something really important huh? We aren’t going away. You can’t wish it or legislate it or control it. As the saying goes, you can’t hold back the tide. Though some are still trying to. Let’s get out of the business of social politics as talking points and parts of agendas and let’s get back to working on the real problems. I, in my little life, am not one of them.
Ideally I want to live in a world of acceptance and love. I want for all the hate and fear and hard feelings to fall away, on both sides. I want to not have to worry about holding Karen’s hand when we walk down the street in some places. I want for us to pay the same taxes as everyone else. I want to not be the subject of so much discussion. I want to legally marry the woman I love, family and friends present, and I want for my wedding to be a regular everyday thing. Not a gay wedding, just a wedding. Because in the end, I am gay, but really I’m just the same old Tam.