Object Lessons from Life in the Real World
Over dessert the other evening, the topic of the Defense of Marriage Act came up. Everyone agreed - everyone at the table - that its recent overturnage was a good thing. Because how could that have been law? How could this country founded on freedom have placed prejudice and bigotry into law?
And wasn’t the internet a good thing? Wasn’t this open environment, this place of absolute freedom of expression, proving to be a boon to people such as myself, the people marginalized and at the boundaries of society who could now find others like ourselves and finally, finally live life like everyone else?
Just like everyone else.
I’m both overstating and oversimplifying what was actually said, but that’s what I heard. Isn’t it great that young gay people can find other young gay people and understand there are other people like them out there (somewhere)? And isn’t that better than it was?
It was like this…
Imagine yourself in a world where there are no reflections of your feelings, desires, lusts and needs.
Imagine that every television show, every film, every magazine and every article in those magazines, every story in every book, every billboard, every advertisement, everyone you ever saw with everyone they were with, and every everything all around you every day reflected a view of love, companionship, sex, marriage and any other intimate relationship as a perfect mirror of what you had never felt and never would.
Imagine that you are attracted to the wrong sex, at least in terms of what everyone else is doing, and from everything you read and see and hear, no one else is like you.
Well, some other people are like you, but they’re broken. Or evil. Or suicidal. Or homicidal. Or drug addicted. Or dead.
Separate yourself from yourself and imagine yourself in love with someone you have no attraction to. You may find them physically attractive, even beautiful, but you come to understand that the sexual attraction that everyone else is experiencing and expecting you to have just isn’t there.
Because there is something wrong with you.
Zen and the Art of Emotional Maintenance
You’re eight years old.
You’re in fourth grade.You’re a young boy. You like playing with Barbies and jumping rope. You like jacks and Easy Bake Ovens and pants that aren’t blue, black or brown.
You’re mostly okay, but you get the distinct impression that some of these things aren’t…safe to share. The Barbies, in particular. Barbies are for girls. Like, strictly.
You like the dresses and the shoes and the hair. You like playing with them, pretending you’re picking out dresses and shoes and fitting them on these tiny plastic feet, and styling this shiny plastic hair, and being Barbie.
But you shouldn’t. Because you’re not a girl.
So you decide that the next time you visit your friend Michele that you aren’t going to play with her and her Barbies anymore.
You’re twelve years old.
You’re riding your Huffy with your friends, who are all boys, because boys only play with boys and do boy things. You’re riding through a dusty field towards a fort your friends made from found materials like old road signs and a mattress and some sheets. Inside the fort is a stash of Playboys, Penthouses and Hustler magazines each of your friends has stolen from their fathers, older brothers or the 7-11 magazine rack. They are torn and dirty, some covers are missing, some pages removed carefully and saved by your friends, taken home and hidden in sock drawers and under beds.
They’re all looking at their favorite pictures of naked ladies. They gaze over each other’s shoulders in a kind of daze, glossy-eyed and slack-mouthed. They point out the best ones to each other, and pass the magazine around as it is demanded, like food for starving peasants.
The naked ladies all have big boobs and hair around their pussies. The other boys say these words with meaning and vigor. They’re kind of dirty words, but not the same kind of dirty as saying hell or damn or shit or fuck. (You would never ever in a million-billion years say fuck.)
You look at the unfolded centerfolds. You hold the dusty magazines in your hands. You look down into the colorful pages, the same pages that the others spend time on, staring at them with an almost uncomfortable intensity. Ladies with very long hair and red lips and big boobs and hair around their pussies.
You don’t feel a thing.
Initially introduced in May 1996, DOMA passed both houses of Congress by large, veto-proof majorities and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in September 1996. By defining “spouse” and its related terms to signify a heterosexual couple in a recognized marriage, Section 3 codified non-recognition of same-sex marriages for all federal purposes, including insurance benefits for government employees, social security survivors’ benefits, immigration, bankruptcy, and the filing of joint tax returns, as well as excluding same-sex spouses from the scope of laws protecting families of federal officers, laws evaluating financial aid eligibility, and federal ethics laws applicable to opposite-sex spouses.
You’re fourteen years old.
Your mother - still a single woman after the death of your father some years ago, probably as lonely as you are but you can’t realize that, yet - has a collection of Playgirl magazines in her nightstand next to a beige vibrator that you sometimes borrow the batteries from.
You have memorized the order of the stack of magazines so that when you take one and open it up on the top of the toilet seat for you to look at when you’re in the shower, you know exactly where to put it back so she will never find out what you’ve done. They are not in order of date, so you need to look at the covers and remember where the men belong.
Your favorite picture shows a man with lots of hair on his body and a mustache on his upper lip. He is muscular, but not like the bodybuilders who are sometimes on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, wearing tiny bathing suits as they parade their oiled bodies on stage.
He is looking directly into the camera - directly at you - as he lounges on a towel beside a pool. He looks relaxed and natural. He’s not like the ladies with big boobs and lipstick, who looked weird and unnatural. He is naked and there are tan lines where his bathing suit should be.
You stare at his face and his chest and his cock while you masturbate in the shower. You find even his neck, and the depression along his clavicle,and his hairy legs and forearms beautiful. He’s smiling at you, because he likes you to look at him.
You’re careful to come into the stream of water so your sperm will disappear down the drain and there will be absolutely no chance of discovery that you ever do this.
You know this is bad.
You’re sixteen years old.
A girl who’s in the high school choir with you has asked you to the prom because she knows you haven’t asked anyone else and you never ask anyone else. You like her. She’s nice. Sometimes you go have lunch with her, and she thinks you’re funny.
She likes you back, and she tells you that, and she wants to go with you to the prom. She will even pay for everything. But you turn her down because you’re afraid she might want to kiss you and you’ve never kissed anyone on the mouth. You’re afraid she’ll find out and tell everyone else.
You never attend a prom and you never go on a single date during all four years in high school. You stay safe, and secret.
You’ve seen people kiss, of course. Lots of your friends are making out at lunch or behind the stage curtains during drama class. Some of your friends (only girls) have told you they’re having sex, which shocks you and saddens you, and who they’re having sex with and whether the boys are any good. They’re having comparitive sex and know who’s good and who’s bad, and they tell others about that.
You manage to make it through high school without ever kissing anyone or being kissed. You feel relieved about that, and the fact that you’re certain that no one suspects why.
Section 1. Short title
This Act may be cited as the “Defense of Marriage Act”.
Section 2. Powers reserved to the states
No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.
Section 3. Definition of marriage
In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.
The Beast With Two Backs
You’re eighteen years old.
You’re nearing graduation and you’ve managed to completely avoid taking a shower at school after P.E. or seeing another guy naked in case you spring a boner or something.
Because there are other guys at school, in classes with you, sitting near you, talking to you, being nice to you, who are beautiful and funny and have nice voices and they laugh with you and you think you could be in their arms, or kissing their lips, and wondering what that would be like.
But you will never, ever, do it.
There’s another guy at school, who you admire because he seems fearless and funny and maybe you could be like that. He’s kind of a friend but not really because you’re afraid of him.
More accurately, you’re afraid that you’ll be compared to him by association because he acts faggy and flamboyant and effeminate and you’re always careful not to act any way at all, not to stick out too much, not to be noticed, in case you are that way and just can’t tell.
Someone calls him a fag. You’re glad he isn’t you.
The bill moved through Congress on a legislative fast track and met with overwhelming approval in both houses of the Republican-controlled Congress, passing by a vote of 85–14 in the Senate and a vote of 342–67 in the House. Democratic Senators voted for the bill 32 to 14 (with Pryor of Arkansas absent), and Democratic Representatives voted for it 118 to 65, with 15 not participating. All Republicans in both houses voted for the bill with the sole exception of the one openly gay Republican congressman, Rep. Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin. The sole independent in the House, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, voted against the bill.
You’re in college and you’re drunk. A little bit, anyway, because you never drink or try drugs or do anything that might make you lose control or something and actually try to kiss that one guy you like with the nice butt and the eyes and the smile, the handsome one who you never speak to, the one you sometimes have fantasies about when you’re all alone and it’s dark and quiet and you don’t make a sound.
Now that you no longer live at home and no longer have access to the treasure trove of naked male magazines in your mother’s nightstand.
You don’t tend to make friends with other guys. You tell yourself this is because you don’t have much in common with them, anyway. The real reason is that the ones you want to be friends with are the ones you’re attracted to, and you’re scared they’ll notice and will hate you.
Your friend Shannon starts making out with you. She kisses you and pulls you to the floor next to her and sticks her tongue in your mouth. It feels good and you begin to hope, right there in the middle of a kiss, that maybe you’re not a faggot and maybe you like girls and you just never tried it with one.
Then you taste the whisky and cigarettes on her breath and for some reason you start gagging, literally gagging, as she kisses you. You feel ill and weird and embarrassed and you leave the party quickly and alone without saying goodbye, in case someone notices.
You make it through college without ever trying to kiss anyone else.
You’re at your job and you’re roommates with someone else just starting out, too. You’re renting a house together because you like each other and you get along great. You have the same taste in music and you’re around the same age.
She asks you at one point if you’re gay, because she’s interested in you and you get along really well and you have fun together but you never show any interest in her. You never try to kiss her or anything.
Your whole body heats up suddenly and you feel ashamed and angry and embarrassed and you can feel tears starting to form and your throat constricts. This all happens in a moment with a suddenness and fury that shocks and scares you.
You deny that you’re gay and decide you can’t get close with people, in case this happens again and they all find out that you’re a faggot.
You start moving around a lot and not dating anyone and not getting close to anyone and coming to the conclusion that it’s okay to be alone and lonely and some people just never have sex at all and it’s weird but it’s better than being a faggot.
You’ll never be found out (oh, sure, some people may suspect that you’re gay, but it’s rude to accuse someone of it so no one will ever ask in case you’re not, and they might offend you, your friends,because being gay is a bad thing that no one wants to be) and you’ll never hurt anyone’s feelings (you’ve seen gay people try to fake it, but that only makes things worse, so it’s better to avoid relationships altogether) and, besides, how could you do it now, anyway? Won’t they think you’re even weirder than just being a fag? And you’ll be awkward and broken and be bad at it and they’ll laugh or be embarrassed for you, which is worse.
Though he personally did not support gay marriage, Clinton also was against passing the Defense of Marriage Act, feeling it was an insult to many of his gay friends. However, after Congress had passed the bill with enough votes to override a presidential veto, Clinton decided to sign the bill into law in order to avoid the type of political damage he encountered earlier in his presidency when he underestimated the public’s opposition to his attempt to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the US military.
You live in a city famed for its tolerance. “Tolerance” is the most that you can ever hope for. You’ve learned that it’s a word that others use to explain how hard it is for them to accept you, to treat you like a human being, like someone who can love someone else even if they’d prefer you didn’t.
They tolerate you.
You’re still scared more than you admit, and it’s sometimes still surprising to you that your first reaction to any new relationship or environment is to hide. Hide who you are.
You don’t want to be “the gay guy” at work. You don’t want to go through high school all over again. You understand that you make people uncomfortable or nervous, and that it’s your fault, and not theirs.
You’ve been taught well, and in big and small ways, and you absorbed it all.
They tolerate you.
Years pass. Decades pass. Your life goes by. Days and weeks and months avoiding contact and intimacy and relationships. You’re lying to your friends. You’re denying your own desires, your own needs, your own emotions.
Isn’t that better?
Isn’t that better than being wrong?
The General Accounting Office issued a report in 1997 identifying “1,049 federal statutory provisions classified to the United States Code in which benefits, rights, and privileges are contingent on marital status or in which marital status is a factor”. In updating its report in 2004, the GAO found that this number had risen to 1,138 as of December 31, 2003.
I never would have or could have predicted in a million years that you would ever allow me to marry someone that I truly loved. I understood how you felt about me. I understood that I should keep my feelings to myself, and never say “I love you” to anyone whom I truly loved. I understood that my desires would never be shown on TV, and I understood why I should be ashamed of myself and bury all my feelings inside.
Maybe you can understand why I feel like this won’t last. I think things will get worse before they get better. That I will be watching TV and hear what some of you really think about me. That I will be reading an article about my rights as a human being to fall in love and then you’ll be there in the comments, explaining why I shouldn’t be treated as a human being because I am not like you. That you’ll veil your beliefs in religion or morality or some sort of natural order of things, and how I am still wrong, or broken, or shameful.
I understand it all. Hatred and anger and prejudice and bigotry. I understand every word.
I’ve tried hiding from you my entire life.
Some lessons are hard to unlearn.
All notes concerning DOMA courtesy Wikipedia.