Hey my friend,
By now, you know the news. We can get married. We can be just like them. I suppose we should feel validated and victorious, but don’t you feel just the tiniest bit patronized, like they condescended to allow the fags to have real relationships, because someone has to help us, poor things.
Please. I’m glad couples can be with each other at their death beds, that they can get all the legal protections and benefits that come with marriage. That is right. That is deserved. But our relationships have never needed the official stamp that comes with that loathsome heterosexual institution. I’m going to say it: our relationships are better than theirs. They’re rogue, unwilling to be boxed in. We’ve never needed their paper to become real and we never will.
But let me tell you about the day Jose and I heard the news. (Yes, Jose and I are back together. I wrote him a goodbye letter, tried San Francisco, and San Francisco failed miserably. I came back after just a few months, and he, for some reason, took me back.) That morning, the gays of Savannah, Georgia erupted in threaded text messages, endless phone calls, hastily-planned parties, rallies, and celebrations, and everyone hugged and kissed in the streets. By early evening, I was in the town’s lone gay dance club, tossing back whiskey-gingers, when a drag queen sauntered up and kissed me on the cheek. It is a beautiful thing to celebrate with your people and I hoped I was able to remember that feeling forever — not so much the victory of the day but its feeling, how it felt to be happy and united with everyone who had ever felt sidelined and hated by the world.
The United States Supreme Court had declared same-same marriage legal in all fifty states.
I was very tired. There had been a celebration rally that afternoon, a dance party after that, and then I was there I was at the bar. I’d met many men here, most I’d never seen again — visitors rolling through town, vacationers on their way to Florida. Some of them had emerged as friends. Some were brief lovers. The queen who kissed me on the cheek performed at my first drag show when I was a 19-year-old slipping into the bar with a fake ID.
She watched me grow up through college, and there I was, graduated, working at Barnes & Noble, still in the same little town. She knew my name and I knew hers. We loved each other the way we love the people we see night after night at a gay bar, the people who only live in those places for us.
I knew documentaries and memoirs about marriage equality and its passage would come later. At that moment, I just wanted to look on the day as one thing, a moment of bewilderment and, more than that, a kind of cultural hinge. What would we as faggots become now?
I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that so many people in the world saw our newfound freedom as a crushing defeat. The Supreme Court’s decision was close: 5 to 4. Many people fought hard to keep us from enjoying the freedoms they enjoyed. I wasn’t much of a celebrator — I could only hate back all the ones who hated me, who fought and lobbied against me. I would not forget them. As my friends partied, I wanted to roar. I wanted to punish those who thought we should not be allowed tax reductions, who thought we should not be entitled to legally share property. What an absurd thing to make a stand on, but they did. I wanted to do more than beat them in the courts, as apparently we did. I wanted to wipe them out.
And I was drunk. The dance floor was empty. The queen was in a red dress, full face, and when she kissed me, I could smell her makeup. How many dollars had I given to her over the years? How many times had we talked — about men in town, sex, people we knew?
We started talking about blowjobs in the bathroom. “I’m still surprised there’s not a backroom here,” I said to her.
She rolled her eyes. “Honey, there was one. Once upon a time.”
She pointed a jeweled finger across the empty dance floor to the far wall. “This entrance to the bathroom is new. Years ago, when I first starting coming here, you went into a door on that side of the room, and you took this long, dark hallway all the way around to the bathrooms here. Down that hallway was one red light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Use your imagination.”
The club, she explained, was redesigned to be more “community-friendly” — to be safer for bachelorettes and conservative tourists. When I heard this, I wanted to scream. This scrubbing of gay spaces was exactly the thing I hated, and I knew it had come hand-in-hand with today’s ruling, somehow. I’d never taken with the idea of marriage myself, but the win wasn’t really for me. It was for the kids, all the little queerlings hiding in the closet. If the ruling in our favor had not happened, it would have sent a message to them that we are less than our fellow citizens. History had to go this way.
I didn’t want my culture to be scrubbed or backrooms to vanish, but they have. And the generation of men who enjoyed backrooms wasn’t even mine. I was the era of social media and gentrification. I was too young to know what that previous world was like, but I dreamt of it, of cruising Central Park in the 1980s (AIDS made no appearances in my dreams), and I wanted more of that. Maybe that’s privilege, maybe that’s naive, but it was true. With marriage equality, we were facing a kind of future, a new stage of what gay life would be, and I wasn’t sure I wanted it. I wished — foolishly, recklessly — that the rest of the world could go forward and I back, back into the recesses, back into the plague, back into the bacchanalia of Fire Island and easy sex, back to when cities were cheap and dangerous. I wanted to live dangerously, outside the law, not in it. That fantasy, more than anything, felt like the clearest descriptor of my perception of “gay.”
“Let me buy you a drink,” I said. And I did. And we clinked our glasses together, me and my drag queen friend, and were as one. We were in our sacred place — a ratty gay club, a disco ball hanging over the dance floor, mirror walls, a pool table, kitschy Christmas lights, sleazy urinals. The bar was empty. She said it would pick up again with the night crowd, but we knew it was also empty because gay men now had Grindr and Scruff, because they could go home to their husbands and lovers. Because who needs a sanctuary when your existence is no longer a crime?
My day ended late at night, reaching into the next day. I went to bed with the man I love, an immigrant with brown skin. We didn’t have much money between us, but we had a creaky old bed and a window that looked out over a courtyard. In that courtyard was an oak tree and potted lilies and a rhododendron and buckets of ferns, and in the night, a bird often came to a branch outside our window and sang. That night, we listened, drunk, naked in the dark. We fucked and fucked and fucked.
Faggots will replace the homophobes. When their children go to meet us, when they mount their own wars, I will be there to attack them, and I will not show mercy. They have dragged us from our beds and shot us in the yard. They have beaten us in the streets with clubs. They have stabbed us to death on the sidewalk. They have set us on fire. All for love.
Their love may be fueled by faith and churches and a misplaced sense of religious fervency, and they may see my love as the cute, limp-wristed thing it appears to be on popular television. But my love is a beast, a dragon curled in its cave, sharp-clawed, eyes black as coal, and it’s coming for them.