I thought it was all about the wedding, but boy, was I wrong. As they say, a wedding is tying the knot. You sign papers, make public vows, and accept the support of friends and family. You also tell your spouse that this is forever. And ever. And ever.
Once upon a time, there was nothing to signify a gay joining but a bedroom and an overstuffed VW hauling furniture, the stereo, and a cat in a carrier. All too often, a few months or years went by and the VW would head off in another direction, plus or minus a cat. But that didn’t always happen. You just didn’t hear much about the knots that stayed tied.
Recently, my sweetheart and I were invited to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of a couple who didn’t have the advantage of a formal knot-tying ceremony. They fell in love in high school and had nothing but their love to keep them together. It couldn’t have been easy. Certainly my early relationships succumbed to the wrath of the closet, which could scar one with a habit of easy dishonesty, especially within oneself. If you’re not honest with yourself, how can you be with your partner? You end up stumbling around inside a house with no foundation, in a maze of lies and denial that make it impossible to sustain a relationship.
These days, I know of so many couples who stayed together till death did them part, and I know more who have hit the 25 mark, the 35 mark, 40 years and beyond. By the time I was 40, I’d learned how to stay, but back in my twenties and thirties, I only knew how to unravel the rope, never mind tie a lasting knot. And even at 40, I didn’t know enough to make good choices. That took another 20 years. How did these long-lasting couples who’ve come out since Stonewall know who to choose and how to make it work?
Our 25th anniversary friends had no guides. Those of us who came before sure didn’t set a good example. I think this couple must have had gumption, hard-headed determination and respect for themselves, for each other, and for their non-anointed marriage.
Not that we didn’t have gumption before 1969. We had it all right, but most of us used it all up fighting the wrong fights. We fought ourselves because we’d been told we were demons. We had trouble respecting our unions. How could I think well of my partner if she chose a demon like me? How could I trust a relationship between demons? How could I even want it, much less confidently promise forever? It was always easier to get in the weighted down VW and move on than to face my own demons.
Then, suddenly, the Stonewall riots, which scared me because I believed that shining a light on gay people was dangerous. Those rioters flipped on the whole circuit breaker. Closets melted in the heat of the lights. A glimmer of self-respect shone into our souls. At the same time, teenagers in small town America were falling in love and looking at the marching gay people on TV and understanding they were not the only ones, that they were not demons, that they were people of great value.
It still wasn’t easy for our friends, because they loved in a world that continued to demonize people like them. It was dangerous outside each other’s arms, but they didn’t drown their fears in liquor, or sabotage their tie by moving away.
They never found gay books until 2003, but they played sports and got good jobs and stayed together and saved money and bought a home with a good foundation. For their first dozen years they were so closeted they had no gay friends. Finally, a friend at work came out to them and they had another couple who could share the special moments in their lives. They announced at the celebration that they made it this long partly because of that friendship.
My sweetheart and I drove 25 hours round trip to witness their accomplishment. Relatively new ourselves, it was important. In the large convivial room there was a glow of accomplishment. The couples’ two families were there as were work friends and team buddies. I imagined, afterward, the heart-rending moments of rejection and eventual acceptance that made this day possible. This couple, whose gumption surely must have wavered now and then, gifted all of us by bringing us together to toast their example and their achievement.
See, their smiles seemed to say, there’s no demons in this room. Not in us, not in you. They can’t untie this knot.