Of #Pride and Particle Theory
A Stonewall story.
This year’s 50th anniversary of The Stonewall Riots that launched the queer rights movement in America brought back poignant memories of a quiet night spent in the riot’s eponymous bar on 08 July 2015, and a record I released in 2014 dedicated to Jim and his late husband John Arthur. My wife Cat’s and my long and dear friend, Jim Obergefell, came to NYC on the heels of the SCOTUS Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized same-sex marriage in USA. He’d never been to The Stonewall Inn, so Cat (who was childhood and lifelong friends with John), Jim’s niece Kara, and I took him there.
The bar, as many are, late into random Wednesday nights, was almost empty. We toasted the straight line between the 1969 riots that spilled out of the bar and the 2015 Supreme Court decision that realized the demands of those courageous rioters to simply be seen as human. We toasted love. We toasted John.
The original court case, fwiw, was Obergefell v. Kasich, and revolved around the inability for John and Jim to be listed as spouses on John’s Ohio death certificate. They wanted to be buried together. You couldn’t share a family cemetery plot in Ohio if the state didn’t recognize you as family. That the case centered on a death certificate, not a marriage license, from a legal POV, brought the equal protection clause to bear in a way that Ohio could never get around.
Doesn’t mean they didn’t try.
If you recognize the defendant in that original case, it’s because John and Jim sued the state of Ohio, and Former Gov. John Kasich became the de facto defendant in court documents. Kasich, though, with his presidential ambitions, and his tea leaves reading correctly that this case would be decided against him ahead of the 2016 elections by the U.S. Supreme Court, forced a patsy in the Ohio Department of Health named Hodges to take his place in the case.
Weasels gonna weasel.
John’s and Cat’s being lifelong friends, we had a front row seat to the whole glorious, tragic, bittersweet, and loving arc of their two-decade relationship. Their wedding took place on a tarmac in Maryland in July 2013, a few months before John’s death.
My 2014 record Particle Theory [Spotify | Bandcamp] was written during the last stages of John’s battle with ALS, dedicated to Jim and him, and released after John passed away, a full year before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on their landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case. The case’s outcome was never certain, and the tracks revolve around the nature of love and justice, death and sentience, and finding one’s self in the context of politics. As happens when your writing’s tuned in a bit deeper into current events, songs on the album tell the stories of a few people, real and imagined, consumed in the global common denominator struggle to protect rights of the individual in the face of cold anti-humanity.
The opening track, Drifting Moon / Spinning Earth tells the story of a queer person’s escaping Ohio, who uses their “shadow as a sword” to find love “1000 feet in the air” in New York City. I wrote the album’s title track on a plane ride home to NYC from John’s memorial service in Cincinnati, OH. Those two songs bookend tracks I am most happy to have written, but never wanted to have to write, including one exploring the disappearing of Syrian programmer and open-source advocate, Bassel Khartabil. Alive when I released Particle Theory, Khartabil was executed in late 2015.
The LP’s cover photograph is a sunset moonrise over the North Carolina Outer Banks beach in front of John & Jim’s summer house where we spent many vacations with them. The photo is from December 2013, when Cat & I took a trip down there to say goodbye to John towards the end of his life.
Particle Theory’s a dark record under its sunny surface — which is my wheelhouse, of course. Dancing through darkness is the only way I know. Could be one reason why queer folk and straight AF me have always found safe harbor in each other. Very psyched Particle Theory remains among my most spun and downloaded collection of songs, and that it’s a grace note, as well as a footnote, for a movement based on love.
Particle Theory liner notes:
Reflections on justice, rights, escape and love.
Life imprints sentience on the particles we cede back to the universe upon passing. Death is decentralization, not expiration, of consciousness. Each of our atoms comprises the cumulative wisdom of all that has experienced life before. We are each one, and we are each all.