Marriage Equality Will Change Gay Culture Forever

That morning, the city erupted. By late evening, I was in the town’s lone gay dance club, tossing back whiskey-gingers, when a drag queen I know sauntered up and kissed me on the cheek. It is a beautiful thing to celebrate with your people and I hope I can remember this feeling forever. This was the day the United States Supreme Court declared same-same marriage legal in all fifty states.

I was tired. There had been a celebration rally that afternoon, a dance party after that, and now, after the hugs and tears, here I was at the bar. I’ve met many men here, most I’ll never see again — visitors rolling through town, vacationers en route to Florida. But in all of them, some had emergd as friends. Some were lovers. You never really know who you’re meeting at a gay bar — who they will become in your life. That’s the wonder of it. This queen here performed at my first drag show when I was a naive 19-year-old slipping in with a fake ID.

She had seen me grow up through college, and here I was, graduated, working at Barnes & Noble, preparing for my exodus from this town. She knew my name and I knew hers, and we loved each other the way you love the people who see you through your first scared steps in a gay bar. They guide you, and before you know it, you’re a regular. You walk in, people hug and kiss you, the bartender talks to you about life.

Documentaries and memoirs about marriage equality and the ones who did it, who took this fight all the way to the Supreme Court, will come later. For now, I simply wanted to look back on the day as one thing, a moment of bewilderment and awe. It was sunny and warm. Everyone was outside. For one day, the world could not have been a better place.

What scares me is that so many people out there see it as a defeat. The Supreme Court’s decision was close: 5 to 4. This tells me that many straight people fought hard to keep us from enjoying the freedoms they enjoy. I’m amazed people can be so selfish, but maybe I have a lot to learn about the world.

We know who these people are. From the same backwater states crawled the same people who fought against Civil Rights fifty years ago. They will never die. Their offspring are taught to hate me, and I, in turn, grew up hating them until I escaped — until I found places like this magical little bar in downtown Savannah. This is how it goes. But will it continue going this way? Is this a turning point? Perhaps we are at the beginning of something new — a new narrative for the gay experience.

With the Right so pitted against us, this day was an improbable victory. It was a win for our side of the culture war, and there will be a backlash. Going forward, the two sides will be more polarized and embittered. They’ll attack us in new ways. We kicked the wasp nest.

I want them to be outsiders looking in. I dream of a place in which Christians and conservatives learn what the fringe feels like. I want them to be outliers in a country that has left them behind. I want to grind them into the trash of history where they belong and let them rot there. I want them to lose it all — their jobs, their children, their hope. I want them to see us take over. I want to be their bogeyman, their antichrist.

I was drunk. The dance floor was empty. She was in a red dress, full face, kissing me on the cheek, and I could smell her makeup. How many dollars have I given her over the years? How many times have we talked — about men, sex, and people we know?

We started talking about giving blowjobs in the bathroom. “I’m still surprised there’s not a backroom here,” I said.

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, I learned, was redesigned in an attempt 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 is exactly the thing I hate, and I know it has come hand-in-hand with today’s ruling. I’ve never been taken with the idea of marriage myself, but this win wasn’t for me. It was for the kids. If it had not happened, it would have sent a message to them, the ones who know they’re like us but don’t have words yet, that we are still less than our fellow citizens. What would they think?

What about the gay parents trying to have children? What of the countless partners unable to be comfort the ones they love as they die in hospital beds? This was won so we don’t keep dying alone. History had to go this way. To lose it would have been the greatest defeat of our time.

I don’t want my culture to clean up or backrooms to disappear, but it has, and they have. That wasn’t my generation, really. I’m the era of social media and gentrification. I’m too young to know what that previous world was like, but I dream of it, of crusing Central Park in the ’80s (AIDS makes no appearances in my dreams), and I want more of that. Maybe that’s privilege, maybe it’s naive, but it’s true.

“Let me buy you a drink,” I said. And I did. And we clinked our glasses together, me and her, and were as one. We were in a sacred place. I could go to any gar bar in the world and see a man in makeup and I’d be home.

If you fought against us, I want you to know how my day ended. I went to bed with the man I love, an immigrant with brown skin. We don’t have much money between us, but we have a creaky old bed and a window that looks out on a courtyard, and in that courtyard is an oak tree and potted lilies and a rhododendron and buckets of ferns. In the night, a bird comes to a branch outside our window and sings, and we listen, naked in the dark.

We will replace you. We are young. When your kids come to meet us, when they mount their own silly war, I will attack them, and I will not show mercy. You have dragged us out of our beds and shot us in the yard. You have beaten us in the streets with clubs. You have stabbed us to death on the sidewalk. You have set us on fire. All for love.

Our love is a dark beast, a monster curled in its cave, sharp-clawed, eyes black as coal, and it’s coming for you.

Love, Beastly

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