Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Now Define Excited by Bear

I should be much more excited than I am. Every person I have told—each colleague, relative, health care provider, acquaintance—has squealed when I mentioned it. Even the e-mail responses squirt joy (OMG!!!!). I’m getting married.

See? The immediate response is a flush of excitement and a quick smile. It’s happy news.

I have tried wording it in a way that I thought would reduce the impact. We are having the long-awaited civil ceremony on the fifteenth anniversary of our rite of holy union. That’s turgid enough, eh? No. I used that one on the vice president I report to, who couldn’t wait to grin broadly and slap me on the back in response.

I told the assistant director of human resources that my tried-and-true spouse and I would be legalizing our relationship before a judge in August. She went straight for the health forms, assuming I was telling her because we wanted him on my benefits (“That’s why most people are doing it,” she said over her shoulder while leaning into the filing cabinet). She was all giggly and energetic, breaking out a smile that rarely gets worn. Yes, far more excited, even if it’s only for the bennies (for the record, it’s not).

At 50 years old, 33 state senators have changed the rules on me. They rewrote the definition of marriage to include me. So, I’m getting married. And I’m supposed to be thrilled.

I’ve been open about my sexual orientation since I was 16 years old. I never had to come out because I was never in. I get that attitude from my parents. They always taught us by example, encouraging us to try things and find who we are by doing. I found out I was attracted to men. Along the way, I learned to be accepting of myself and others from how my parents treated everyone equally. That was a big deal for a young Republican couple in the Upper South in the 1960’s and 70’s.  Maybe it still is.

I also accepted that the world did not include me in the definition of marriage. That was okay. Being gay meant you don’t get married. No one told my stepfather, a good old boy, former cop, and Pacific War veteran from West Virginia. When, at the age of 29, I split up with my first partner after almost 12 years, my stepdad asked my mother if that was the first divorce in her family. These days he’s fighting cancer for a third time to prevent my mother from being a widow for a second time. That’s what marriage is about when you get down to it. It isn’t exciting. It’s hard work.

By and large, being gay hasn’t been a challenge. I can count the bumps in the road on one hand. A Yale undergrad from my first summer in China “outed” me to another Yale undergrad in the group the second summer, which saved time waiting for everyone to figure it out again. Someone in my law firm eight years later thought it necessary to tell me that I was the “out” lawyer at the firm, one week after I added ACT UP to our client list so I could defend a couple of friends who had been arrested for disorderly conduct. Another seven years later, the Saudi businessman who hired me to run his school in the Kingdom sat me down my second day on the job to tell me he had heard I was gay; he just wanted to make sure I knew he knew.

In sum, while a few have found it necessary to point out the obvious, I am fortunate that just living my life, being gay has not had negative consequences. And I’ve tried to live a respectable, friendly, and interesting life, since I’m the only recognizably gay man some people have ever known. It’s sort of like being the only snow leopard at the zoo.

Now, I’m getting married. Again. Can you tell I’m elated?

We had a lovely Taoist-Christian ceremony in Thacher State Park 15 years ago, with Albany and Schenectady spread out below us. My mother almost slid over the edge of the precipice, saved by the Marine reflexes of my new brother-not-in-law. We self-catered: roast beef on the grill, salt potatoes, and salad. The only taste of wedding cake we got was from the pieces we smooshed in each other’s mouth at his cousin’s urging. Our families played volleyball to close out the day. Later on, a lawyer helped us with some basic documents to reflect our commitment to one another.

Over the years, we toyed with the idea of going to Canada (he’s half Canadian), but either the procrastinator or the romantic in us always won out. We already know we’re married in the eyes of God and the universe. Let’s wait and see what New York does. Solid thoughts based on wispy premises.

Lo and behold, New York did something. Now, I’m getting married and I’m supposed to be excited. When he handed me some paper and a pen after dinner one night for us to write down ideas—his way of proposing this second time—I really was joking when I said, “I guess ‘no’ isn’t an option.”

Then it struck me as I watched the counter-protesters on the news wailing about the 33 senators who have messed with God’s definition of marriage. I’m reasonably certain God did not write New York’s marriage statute. However, in rewriting New York’s definition of marriage, those senators changed another definition: what it means to be a gay man.

My definition of being gay, and by extension my definition of myself, never included marriage. It certainly included sharing my life with a partner in many of the same ways my mother and father did and my mother and stepfather have done, with their commitment, struggles, fun, and candor. Now, I have the opportunity to follow their example in having my relationship legally recognized. But the role models don’t quite fit any longer.

I am a gay man and I can get married. That’s something I need to get used to.

Then I will get excited.

Bear began writing as a junior high student attending workshops at Johns Hopkins. He has written for decades, mostly dialogue and poetry. In his forties, he finally finished several plays, two of which have had readings. Bear started creating essays on politics and other issues in 2011.

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