Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Marriage Equality: my personal story

Me, at about 23, when I was with my first love. The skirt is thrift. No, I hadn't dyed my hair. It looks like that in the sun.
I have never been married but I have once been engaged – to a woman.

Long before gay marriage was legal in Canada, I was engaged to a woman. She and I were deeply in love. We shared a home, had two dogs and a cat, even had a foster daughter for a while. We worked on our degrees together, scraped for money together, and shared dreams for our future together.

In the end, we didn’t get married. If I had to explain why, I’d say that the short answer is that we were too young. But our engagement was serious enough that I bought bridal magazines and looked seriously at wedding dresses. (I believe I favoured a gown with a sweetheart neckline and puffed sleeves. Thank God I didn’t get one, eh?) She was my first love.

The current American Supreme Court deliberations about marriage equality are, therefore, very personal to me. I am, unequivocally in support of marriage equality, as a human being who has always cared deeply about human rights, and as a bisexual woman who could just as easily have ended up with a woman as with a man.

I have always known that I was attracted to women. In fact, my attraction to men has been the less certain one over the years, though Beau is in no danger of losing me to a woman. The idea that two women (or two men) could fall in love always made sense to me and I knew that this was a possibility for me long before I’d ever heard the word “lesbian,” let alone words like “queer” or “bisexual.” Soon, I met adults who were indeed in love with people of their own sex, confirming my belief that it was natural.

Me, at eight. Shirt, invariably thrift. Yes, I've always loved cats. Yes, I really was a hippie kid.
I grew up in a very liberal, hippie-ish environment and my first conscious memory of knowing a gay couple is from 1979, when I was eight years old. That summer, there was a Quaker summer camp in a nearby town known for its huge population of hippies who had moved there as draft dodgers during the Vietnam War. Quakers have always been known for their liberal views and their strong belief in social justice and the equality of all human beings. It makes sense, then, that an openly gay couple not only attended the camp that summer, but played a major role in its activities and organization.

What did I think of them? One of the men in the couple was a flamboyant and theatrical man who taught us really fun cooperative games. I thought he was one of the funniest, most entertaining people I’d ever met. Therefore, I thought gay couples were just fine. I was eight. This is the kind of criteria eight year olds have for making such decisions. Maybe we should all take a cue from eight year olds.

Soon after that, a couple I’d known for a long time divorced and the woman entered a lesbian relationship. Last I heard, they were still together. 
My first real crush. I took this photo in the school washroom when I was fourteen and she was fifteen.
Gay people and gay couples were soon peppered throughout my world (and probably had been all along when I’d been too young to know it). They might have been slightly exotic to me but I certainly saw no reason why they should not be together. That made no sense.

As I entered puberty, I had crushes on both male and female celebrities: Matt Dylan and Kristy McNichol, Blair Warner on The Facts of Life (no, not Jo, unlike every other queer woman I know), that guy who played Danny on Fame. As I got a little bit older, I had crushes on some of the women whom I knew were lesbians.

I went to a small, alternative high school, peopled with  hippies’ children, punk kids, gifted kid, and other kids who felt like misfits in regular schools… including queer kids. This was the first time I met people my own age who were “out.” Being gay or bi was just normal (though having the courage to be open about it, to oneself and others, was exceptional and laudable).
My first boyfriend at about the age he was when we dated. Yes, boyfriend. He was and is male.

So was gender non-conformism. I had two major crushes in high school, one on a girl and one on a boy. The boy looked a lot like a girl. In fact, I had fallen for him before I’d figured out whether he was a boy or a girl. His androgyny was fascinating to me. He was my first boyfriend and is a friend to this day (as is the first girl I liked). His mother and I are in regular contact.

I finally officially came out of the closet one year after graduating from high school, when I was eighteen. (As a very feminine woman, I did have struggles fitting in in the lesbian community but that’s a story for another post.) 
As someone who has always been very political, it was only natural for me to become a gay rights activist. I did it the way I knew how: with my writing. I wrote for several gay newspapers and magazines while I put myself through school, studying Communications, Creative Writing, English, and Gender Studies.

Me, around my nineteenth birthday. This was my brief and half-hearted attempt to "look like a lesbian." Note the thrifted pants and belt. My hair was already growing long again and I'm wearing some kind of rose-bud earrings.
I was also very “out” as a lesbian (not feeling bisexual until my mid-twenties). To me, being out was and is a very important political gesture. I am a femme so can pass as straight but refuse to do so. (I came out to Beau on our very first date. If he was homophobic, there would be no second date so it’s something I needed to know right away.) It’s important for people to realize that they do know queer people; it’s harder for them to hate us then. 

I went to all the rallies, and the marches, and the social events. I wore first the pink triangle and then, when that fell out of vogue, the rainbow colours. I had a t-shirt that loudly proclaimed, “Everyone thinks I’m straight.” I like to think that I was on the forefront of an important civil rights movement (though I know it was the generation before me that fought the even harder battles on this front). I like to think I paved the way for the queer kids of today.

Yet gay marriage was barely on my radar. First of all, I just never believed that I would live to see the day when gay marriage was legal. It was like fighting for the moon. We’d never get it so we should fight instead for things we might actually be able to attain: hospital visitation rights (remember that AIDS was still a death sentence), workplace recognition of partnerships, tenancy rights, visibility.

One of the many marches I attended. This was the Dyke March and you can see that we're not there for the fun of it, not in this weather. I really believed these marches and rallies mattered and made a difference. Did they?
But I think I also didn’t think much about gay marriage because marriage itself had never meant much to me. In my liberal environment, I felt like real commitment was in one’s heart and getting a legal document to validate that commitment was hopelessly old-fashioned and “straight,” not heterosexually straight, but “square,” mainstream, dull.

And, of course, my parents’ hippie generation doesn’t have a very good record where marriage is concerned. By the time I was twenty, my mother had been married three times, my father had been married once but was on a lifelong failed search for his true love (a search in which he is still engaged in his 70s), my first step-father had been married and divorced four times, and my second step-father had been married twice. How on earth could I take legal marriage seriously?

I'm about 21 here (on the right) with some pals after a Gay Pride Parade.
This skepticism about legal marriage was only bolstered by the fact that I could not legally marry a woman. I didn’t even have to ask myself if I would ever choose to get that government sanctioned piece of paper because I couldn’t get it. 

When I realized that I was also attracted to men, I knew that I would never marry a man if I could not legally marry a woman. That, to me, would be like being of mixed race during the times of segregation and choosing to sit at the front of the bus because I could pass for white. It was morally repugnant to me. 

So, again, I didn’t really have to think about my own personal feelings about marriage. I couldn’t do it and that was that.

Then, like some kind of miracle or dream, gay marriage became legal in Canada. We had marriage equality!

Suddenly, marriage was a real option for me. For the first time, I had to ask myself if I would ever want to get that little piece of paper that says the government recognized my love for another person. I doubted I would. A deep and firm lifetime commitment in my heart? Yes. A wedding? Yes. A wedding before the eyes of God and my community? Yes. A beautiful gown? Well, obviously

But that little legal document? I doubted it.

Me and Beau, a few months after we met. I hope and even plan to spend my life with Beau but will we ever marry? That's a personal choice that everyone should have the right to make! (Note that the blanket is a dead ringer for the fabric of my shirt when I was eight.)
I decided that, if I were ever lucky enough to find love again, and that little legal document was necessary for my lover to feel truly committed, then, yes, I’d get married. Otherwise, no, I wouldn’t.
It just didn’t mean anything to me. I had trouble understanding why it meant so much to others. But I have a thousand times more trouble understanding why preventing marriage equality means so much to some heterosexual people. Why on earth do they care so much? What possible harm can gay marriage cause anyone?

And it is because marriage does mean so much to others, including those who oppose marriage equality, that I am absolutely, 100% in favour of gay marriage. I might never choose to get legally married but I will fight for my right to make that choice for myself. Whether or not one gets married should always be a personal choice, not some favour denied or granted by the government or moral conservatives.

And so, this is my long-winded, personal story of why I support marriage equality and am closely watching the Supreme Court deliberations in the States. Because marriage should always be a personal story, not a political one, and I am thrilled that my country has come to the same conclusion. I hope the United States follow.

(Update: Beau and I did get married, on October 11th, last year.)


  1. Great, thoughtful column. Thank you!

  2. Thank you for sharing such a personal story! BTW I agree with you marriage should be a personal story, well put!

    I wanted to let you know I nominated you for a Versatile award it's on my blog for you to check out, Have a great weekend!

    1. Sounds great... except, what is it? Can you tell me more? Whatever it is, I'm flattered you thought of me!

  3. From what I can gather it's an award from one blogger to another to recognize their work. Nobody seems to be able to find the origin. If you would like to see the reasons why I nominated you the post is on my page. I hope you're having a good weekend!

    Life with RA is a Pain