By Susan Howard
“It’s almost irritating at this point,” a friend complained to me about the gay marriage laws, “I am tired of hearing about it.” I couldn’t agree more, almost. The laws are changing at a somewhat rapid pace state by state deeming a ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional but is also feels like a slow drip and a clumsy one at that.
How is it that as a lesbian I am married in California, but could legally get married again in Nebraska to a man?
“I mean what’s the big deal anyway, he continued, call it marriage or not, who cares.” Here is where my straight, well-meaning friend and I disagree. Personally I didn’t realize it was a big deal until it became a possibility. I didn’t know what I didn’t have until I had it. It’s like when we gave our daughter a cupcake for the first time, she had never seen anything like it. Proceeding with caution at first, then some interest, feeling the texture of the frosting, mashing it between her fingers and then curiously shoving her hand in her mouth. Wait? What? The realization to her that frosting is AWESOME was born.
In order to realize the significance of this time in gay history we must flash back to me as a teen in the 80’s. As a student at NYU living in the city, I was closeted. It seems strange to people that at an Arts school in Manhattan I would not be out, but you’d be surprised. Not a ton of people were out then and the ones that were had joined a group called GLAAD or MAD or something and waved a big rainbow flag around. Having never been much of a joiner, I was in awe of and repelled by that group. Not so much by their pride, but by the group with their mohawks and piercings and pizza parties. I am from the midwest originally and am pretty conservative by nature, so I didn’t really relate to them, so I thought.
Cut to Clinton calling for Don’t ask Don’t Tell in the military. This has since been overturned, people these days talking about what an abhorrent rule that was. How could we ask the people fighting for our country to be closeted? Least we remember when Clinton made that law, he was trying to throw gay men and women of service a bone. We shouldn’t kick gays out of the military, let them serve. On top of that, I feel like he was the first President to say the word gay in any context of any kind at all. At the time the law was made it was a triumph. Bill was cutting edge.
Flashback even further, I had the opportunity to speak with an older lesbian about the Stonewall riots and she told me about the secret dance club she used to go to where men would dance with men and women would dance with women and when the cops came everybody would quickly switch to opposite sex couplings. That was 45 years ago. Not that long really.
Growing up in the northern suburbs of Chicago there were NO examples of the life I lead now. I remember kissing my first girlfriend in high school and then not speaking to her for two weeks feeling so freaked out for what we had just done. Come to think of it, I always felt strange as a young adult because I had nothing to look at, to emulate. Sorta like Sandra Bullock in“Gravity”, I was just floating into the ether. When who you are is not reflected in anything around you and when talking about it is such taboo it’s easy to end up in your own strange bubble. I came out when I was 21 years old and at the time that was a big deal. Women would hit on me in a very peculiar way. They would say something like, “So you are a lesbian? I could be into something like that.” The whole thing for me was very shy and innocent.
It is a wonder that I have a wife and three children. I never wanted either of these things. I never wanted them because I never knew I could. In coming to terms with my sexuality, I automatically thought that I was giving up what is considered a “normal” lifestyle. I figured that I’d have different girlfriends and eventually move in with one longterm girlfriend then maybe get a dog.
So now when asked what’s the big deal, I say it is a big deal to me. As if my life has been lifted up on the shoulders of older gays and lesbians, the younger generation of gay men and women will rise up because of this moment in time. They will have something to see, like my wife’s site, The Next Family so proudly shows the new definition of family including all types of people. They will see possibility, where before there was none. Isn’t that what we are here for, to grow and to expand our lives possibilities.
The 20 somethings are lucky to be growing up in this time. There has been a lot of work that we are all reaping the benefits from. It is huge to my family that my kids know their parents are married and committed to each other. That they too have a real family like their classmates. They may be some of the frontier children with two mom parents, they defiantly get lots of questions at school, but are still lucky, because without all this change they would never have been born.
So yes it is a big deal. It has been life changing for me. And yes it would be nice if all 50 states would unite on this issue so we can get back to watching Mad Men.