As the fight for gay marriage begins to hit a fevered pitch in 2013, I feel like it’s high time that I come out about something. See, there’s this secret I’ve been carrying around, and it rears its ugly head every time the subject of same-sex nuptials comes up. Doesn’t matter which camp is talking about the topic – gay friends excited about the possibility of legalizing their decades-long relationships or religious relatives concerned that it will lead to people marrying their pets. In any conversation on the subject, my comments stay general and I bite my tongue.
But I’m coming out about it now – loud, public, and proud. The secret isn’t that I’m gay – a poorly placed Playgirl magazine outed me on that one years ago. No, my secret is this: Yes, gay marriage is long overdue, but the thing I believe in, the thing we really need to get going, is a whole slew of messy gay divorces, and I mean stat.
If we’re fighting for equality in holy matrimony, we also need to be fighting for equality in royally screwing it up. Divorce has its own inherent shame. I know, because before Prop. 8 went into effect, I was gay married and then divorced within a year. But imagine the added humiliation involved when committed couples are fighting for their right to tie the knot, and you give the institution of marriage the big middle finger by not being able to make your own marriage work.
So here’s the story of my big, fat gay divorce.
I grew up in a small Texas town that loved football, church, and trailer parks. Early in high school, I did all of the things most gay boys do in small towns – feigned crushes on girls, tried out for football with disastrous results, attempted to deepen my voice through daily exercises. Even though I never spoke about being gay, kids, family members, and even teachers called me a faggot and did all the other doucheries that cruel heterosexuals do to kids they suspect aren’t straight.
I tried to stay quiet about it, to not further the torment, but when I turned 16 the sex urges relentlessly raged. The only way I was going to get some was if I admitted that the accusations were true. People had to know. What if there was some hot, closeted dude who didn’t know where to turn? I had to help him. Naked. So I sort of came out of the closet. The door didn’t burst open, it quietly squeaked. I was strategic about it. I only told friends, not family, didn’t answer questions, and didn’t fight back when the name-calling happened. I was out, but quiet, and for the next 10 years that’s how I lived.
Then early in 2004, when I was living in Los Angeles, San Francisco started to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This was amidst a flurry of gay marriage activity across the country, and it was the first time in my world that the idea of getting hitched even entered the border of reality. I was less than a year into a new relationship. I was young, unsure about my future, swept up in political fervor for the first time, and madly in love. You can see where this is going, can’t you?
We were one month in to living together, and I asked him to marry me. This was an intense connection, and things were moving fast. There was a feeling like we couldn’t get close enough, like I needed to be in his skin in order to make this wanting go away. It was exciting and terrible. Maybe marriage could get us there, get us to a place that was finally close enough. And we didn’t know how long this window of opportunity would be open. So we jumped on it, and in March of 2004, we were gay-married at San Francisco City Hall.
That’s when I really came out, when I finally spoke up about myself, and I spoke up loudly. Gay pride meant something to me that day. I was unapologetically participating in a national discourse that mattered to me and my people in a profound way. I was there, and gay, and finally used to it.
My husband and I went back to Los Angeles, and since we hadn’t had the time to plan a bigger wedding at City Hall, we decided to put a ceremony together a few months later, complete with two grooms on a cake and our families present. I was raised by very Christian grandparents, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was an unspoken rule, even when my relatives suspected I was gay. But I needed my family to participate in this. I needed them, for once, to be in on the whole of my life. So I sent invitations to everyone, Christian grandparents included, without explanation and without apology.
Then a crazy thing happened. They showed up. Well, my grandparents didn’t, nor did they acknowledge the invitation, but the rest of my relatives were there. And in front of all of them, I stood up and professed my love to another man. A man that I was beginning to suspect wasn’t right for me. But I pushed that aside. My family was there for me in all my gay glory. Their mere presence meant acceptance. And it was during that ceremony that I realized a cruel irony. I was being the most honest I’d ever been by inviting them all into my relationship, while also telling the biggest lie I’d ever told by saying to the man I married that I had no doubts and would love him forever.
In less than a year, all of the marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples in California were annulled. When the letter notifying us showed up, I was already done with the relationship and ready to leave. But I told myself that this unhappiness I felt was part of marriage, that I had to stick it out because I’d invited my family and friends into our relationship, that I owed it to gay people everywhere, that even though I was miserable and couldn’t stand to be in the same room with my husband, I had to make this work.
Our breakup took a year. First I moved out under the guise that we were still together. The poor guy was completely confused. His feelings hadn’t waned, and he would have done anything to make it work. Eventually, I just couldn’t talk to him anymore. If there were awards for ungracious and horrible breakups, this one would seal my win.
That was six years ago, and for a long time I had such shame around my gay marriage. I let everyone down, and I do mean everyone: gay people everywhere – and especially the strong and amazing couples who had fought so hard to have their true marriages recognized. I let down my family, myself, and most certainly the guy I took on this ride just so I could find some vehicle for self-acceptance. I was truly the most horrible person on the planet. My penance would be that I would never marry again.
And then Kim Kardashian’s 72-day marriage happened. Like a ditzy, sex taping angel, Kim descended and offered me grace and forgiveness. I’m not normally one who follows celebrity news, but for a while her nuptials even came up in conversations with strangers on Muni rides. We discussed whether this rapid bond and breakup was proof of her stupidity or a well-executed publicity stunt. Either way, she was villainized. She’d made a mockery of marriage, just like I had. But she survived it. Her family stuck by her, and eventually even the press let her off the hook.
That’s when it hit me – if this bitch can screw up, so can I. We all have the right to make really large and public mistakes. We all have the right not to understand what marriage means and then do it anyway, only to learn the lesson later, after messing with people’s lives. If straight people can unwittingly make a mockery of marriage, so can I.
But had I grown up knowing that I was a normal human being, had the world not seemed like a hateful and scary place, had marriage always been an option for me and I didn’t need to jump on it in the one month it was available to me, I might not have made that mistake. Now that this fight for equality is full on and I’ve had the opportunity to learn from my errors, I understand gay marriage better, and I see how hard-fought this war is. But I also know that even if I screw up again, like the multitudes of straight people who marry three times or more, I’m human, and I deserve forgiveness and another chance to get it right.
So now I believe in my right to make mistakes. I believe in everyone’s right to make mistakes. My gay divorce has made me a better person, and though I hope none of you have to ever go through the shame and sense of failure divorce can bring, we all certainly have a right to learn the lesson.
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