As a therapist, I sometimes utilize narrative therapy to help clients examine their problems from their own perspectives. It's a form of therapy, and of interaction, that honors the narrative of one's life. After all who better to tell someone else about me than me?
However, recent events in many states have left me with my own narrative. As marriage equality is slowly sweeping the nation, I can't help but to recall my own experiences and thoughts during this time.
I'm a gay man. This is my story of how it felt to watch my country vote on me, how it feels that the courts are defending me, and what it feels like every time another court puts me on hold.
In 1994, I was just coming into my sexuality. I knew something was wrong and different. I'd lived through the 80s, and I knew the term "gay." It meant dirty. It meant diseased. It meant wrong...and something was wrong. The boys looked good, and the girls looked OK I guess.
Then the news of Hawaii possibly making it legal for people like me to marry. I was just transitioning into young adult hood, being born in the early 80s, but I still felt a sense of happiness at the idea. Then Hawaii said no in 1994.
I remember, even in my youth, thinking that this wasn't right. How could you tell someone they couldn't serve because of who they love? It felt wrong. It was wrong. Yet, at the time, for Americans said it was right. Well over half of Americans supported this move. In one poll, 78% of Americans said I was wrong this year. (http://www.scribd.com/...).
Then came 1996. Bill Clinton sacrificed us again. The Defense of Marriage Act. At the time, I was a teenager and I wondered, "Why does marriage need defending from me? What did I do to marriage?" Yet again, though, America embraced the law that put discrimination into law. This time, over 1,000 rights were forever locked away from me. I was only a teen, but I knew what was happening. 74% of Americans said I was wrong...
15 states that year passed constitutional amendments to outlaw me marrying. I can remember feeling an overwhelming sense of being wrong. I did everything I could to hide the truth. In some ways, I had to. A vast majority of Americans hated me for no reason. Why shouldn't I hide?
In 1997, 10 states banned my right to marriage. I can remember crying at a few. Others, I was out of tears. I remember asking myself, "Why are they doing this?" and on other days I'd say, "Who cares? They're doing it." At this point, I knew I was wrong and I had to keep it a secret. I knew something bad would happen if I didn't.
Then came 1998. Matthew Shepard was killed. When I initially heard the story of Shepard's murder, I was told that a gay guy hit on some guys and tried to rape them. They had to fight back and they killed him. I remember this sounded so weird. How is it that one guy could hurt multiple guys? Was he this great fighter? The narrative was set--the freak homo tried to jump up some nice, wholesome boys. 73% of Americans said I was wrong this year.
And on and on it went. State after state followed. I rang in the new year wondering why I couldn't just be allowed to live my life. I wasn't asking for anything special. It's 2000! The new century! We should be beyond this!
71% of Americans entered the new year, the new century, saying I was wrong.
Then 2003 happened. Massachusetts. I can remember hearing the news. I had to rush to the nearest computer to make sure I wasn't being lied to. That maybe someone had found out and was messing with me. It was true. A state finally said it was OK for me to be me. It took almost 10 years, but here we were. As I did my best to to show emotion (emotion makes you gay, don't you know?), I smiled. I finally felt like I was part of America. Sure, I don't live in Massachusetts, but I could.
But in a short-lived victory, George W. Bush started to campaign on the evils of gay marriage. I never in my life believed I was more a pinata for a man than in that moment. I watched the Twin Towers fall, but that made me feel like a target. In these moments, with over half the country banning my right to marry, I felt like a pinata to be used for a man's ambition. The year was 2004, and I was now keenly aware that 70% of Americans thought I was wrong.
It wouldn't be until 2008 that another state would legalize me. During this time, young gay men were killing themselves and it wasn't in the news. We'd get little snippets here and there. I can remember feeling such pain that people like me were being driven to the point of finding no value in their existence. But 2008 was exciting because this was the year it started.
2008: Connecticut and 62% of Americans said I was wrong.
2009: Iowa and Vermont and I knew the tide was changing. The numbers had fallen from 78% to 62% in 13 years and the courts were making the arguments I had read in Loving v. Virginia. Oh God, it could be true...
2010: New Hampshire. 58%. Never did I imagine that I could be seeing who I am no longer be wrong, but it's so close. In one poll, people say I'm no longer morally wrong. Never before have two words meant so much to me.
2011: New York
2012: Maine and Washington
2013: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Utah (Only to go back)
2014: Oregon, Pennsylvania
With each one, I feel a sense of happiness. I feel that I belong. I feel that I am not wrong. There are still days that I wonder if it'll all fall down. So many states have had the courts toss down their votes. What if the votes start again? What will they say about me without even knowing me?
On September 20, 2011, President Obama ended Don't Ask Don't Tell after the courts ruled it unconstitutional. On June 26, 2013, the United States throws down DOMA. It took us over a decade, but we did it.
And then my state does it. In 2014, Arkansas joins the crew. When it is states you don't live in, that's one thing. In 1996, we passed the constitutional amendment. In 2014, a single judge has the bravery to stand against the voters who voted in hate. Almost 20 years after putting the amendment in...
I cannot tell you how excited Arkansans were. The few LGBT Arkansans I knew rushed to courthouses. They didn't do it because they had plans. Every single one told me, "I have to before the stay." We knew the bottom would drop out. It always does, and it did. The Arkansas Supreme Court stayed the decision, and once again I'm not quite equal. I hadn't planned on marrying right now. I'm single. It's difficult to get married while single, but I still feel less.
And so I wait. The bottom fell out, and all of the happiness with it. But the sky looks a little brighter. The future looks a little bit better. 64% of Americans say I should be allowed to love who I love. 55 to 60% of Americans say I should be able to marry. 58 to 63% support my right to adopt.
In one Gallup poll, 52% of Americans said they would vote for a law to make same-sex marriages legal.
I was coming into my sexuality in 1994 and I knew what gay meant.
Oh the places you'll go.
And miles to go before I sleep.