On the Full Creative Life Cut Short
Posted by Jun 13, 2016 0 comments
When I came out to my parents, I was twenty-one. I had just come back from visiting my boyfriend (now my husband), who my parents thought (not wrongly) was my best friend, and I sat down at the kitchen table after the drive from New Hampshire to Connecticut and waited for my mom to ask me how it was. When she did, I couldn’t bring myself to say that I was gay, so instead I asked her a question—I said “You know Seth and I are more than friends, right?”
My parents love me unconditionally, and they love Seth, who they’ve now known for nearly 15 years, the same way. In that moment, for reasons that I see now with the distance of those 15 years, my parents felt fear and panic at what being gay would mean for me. My mother worried that coming out with my best friend, being in that relationship so young, would mean losing my best friend once the more romantic connection cooled. While it didn’t ever get said aloud, both of my parents, I believe, worried about the bigotry I would face, the risk of STDs, the fact that I was, in words I remember clearly, “maybe making your life harder.”
They supported me, as they always have, but I’ve got to say that they weren’t wrong.
I didn’t lose my best friend, and I have experienced no health dangers, but my life is, in its own incremental and idiosyncratic way, harder. As a person who checks most privileged categories, the discrimination that I’ve felt in the intervening years has been stark.
A man got angry at me once for what he thought was me cutting in line to get on a bus, and viciously spit at me and called me a “fucking faggot,” and no one in a full bus said a word.
When Seth and I were on a road trip looking at venues for our wedding, we got out at a convenience store and left the “Gay Weddings” book we had on the backseat of the car, and found a guy waiting for us when we came out. He eyed us up and down and called us faggots, too, and walked away.
On my 35th birthday, Seth surprised me with a trip to Chicago to see the Field Museum, and while there we decided to get some photos in one of those 4-picture photo booths. As we were giggling our way through it, first one then the other of us kissing each other on the cheek, we heard gasps and laughter outside the booth. It turns out that there was a screen on the outside showing everyone our kisses, and that “everyone” was a student group. I love that photo strip—it shows us at our most joyful and carefree and loving—but it also now signifies, just a little bit, a teenager gruffly stage whispering “it’s just not right,” and a teacher shushing him as we walked past and out.
I nearly didn’t come out. I nearly said to myself, this is too hard. I nearly lost out on the love of my life, and my marriage, and my child, and all of the beauty and comfort I find in being the man I am. I, for my part, found my strength in Walt Whitman and ee cummings and Tony Kushner, in horrible gay movies, in Britney and Cher and Madonna, in musical theatre, in the shared admiration of men. And in those moments when I found myself in gay clubs, knowing that we all could just be there, and beautiful, and free—in that moment of full, vibrant creative life, I learned that I was going to be okay.
Every time I feel nervous about holding my husband’s hand while walking, I hold onto the fact that I am a full and beautiful human being, and that my love for him is complete. Every time I get uncomfortable when our daughter outs us instantly to everyone she meets, I revel in the fact that she sees nothing wrong with us at all, and I wonder how long I can help her hold onto that.
I find strength in my creative life, which is, simply put, a gay one. I know how differently I act in a group of gay men, the shorthands and mannerisms that come out, the ease of not having to “represent.” I know, in a way, what it’s like to feel my cultural and creative life flowing through me fully, pulsating with the lights and sounds and easy, un-performed grace of just being myself.
The shooting in Orlando is horrible, full stop. The invasion, the breaking of the space, the wrenching away of the core creative life of not just those 50 people who died but the 250 other people who were there—and, in a lesser way, of all of us who once found our solace in gay spaces—is where the howl emerges from me.
We all have a right to a full creative life—because a full creative life is where we find our identity and our peace. We learn our history in these spaces. We learn how to be ourselves, how to be proud of who we are. We all must protect the creative life. We all must strive for a world where everyone can engage in and create their culture to the fullest. We all must not give into fear and division.
In the words of Whitman:
We two boys together clinging,
One the other never leaving,
Up and down the roads going—North and South excursions making,
Power enjoying—elbows stretching—fingers clutching,
Arm’d and fearless—eating, drinking, sleeping, loving,
No law less than ourselves owning—sailing, soldiering, thieving, threatening,
Misers, menials, priests alarming—air breathing, water drinking, on the turf or the sea-beach dancing,
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, feebleness chasing,
Fulfilling our foray.