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 heterosexual institution. I’m going to say it: our relationships are better than theirs. Ours are rogue, unwilling to be boxed in. We’ve never needed their paper to become real. We never will.
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 at the bar. After living in Savannah for several years, I was now a familiar patron at the bar and had met many men here. Most of them I’d never seen again — visitors rolling through town, vacationers on their way to Florida. Some had become friends. Some were 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 then, 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 one can love the people who only exist as familiar faces in a gay bar.
I knew documentaries and memoirs about marriage equality and its passage would come later. At that moment, I just wanted to look at the day as one thing — a moment of bewilderment and, more than that, a kind of cultural hinge. What would faggots be 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 people who hated me, who fought and lobbied against me. I would not forget them. As my friends partied, I wanted to scream. 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 take 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 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.
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 started 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 bachelorette parties and conservative tourists. When I heard this, my heart broke. This scrubbing of gay spaces was exactly the thing I hated most, and I knew in a profound way — in words I could not clearly express, then or now — that this shift had come hand-in-hand with the day’s Supreme Court victory. 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.
But with this shift — and with the historical shifts that had preceded it — came change, and more change would come, and I wasn’t sure I liked what that change was. I didn’t want my culture to be scrubbed or my backrooms to vanish, but they were — they already had. And the generation of men who enjoyed backrooms wasn’t even mine. My generation brought in the era of social media and hookup apps. I was too young to know what that previous world was like, but I dreamt of it often: cruising Central Park in the 1980s (AIDS made no appearances in my dreams). I wanted that. Maybe that’s privilege, maybe that’s naive, but that’s how I felt. With marriage equality, we were facing a future, a new stage of gay life, and I wasn’t sure I wanted it. I wished — foolishly, recklessly — that the rest of the world could go forward and I back. I wanted to go 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 I saw around me, felt like the clearest description of the gay life I wanted for myself.
“Let me buy you a drink,” I said to her. And I did. We clinked our glasses together. We were in our sacred place — a ratty gay club with a disco ball hanging over the dance floor, mirror walls, a pool table, kitschy Christmas lights, and sleazy urinals. The bar was empty but she said it would pick up again with the night crowd. But we knew it was also empty because gay men now had apps like Grindr and Scruff, because they could go home to their husbands and lovers. Who needs a sanctuary when your existence is no longer forbidden?
My day ended late at night. I went to bed with the man I loved, an immigrant with brown skin. We didn’t have much money, 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 came to a branch outside our window and sang. That night, we listened, drunk, naked in the dark. And we fucked and fucked and fucked.
Faggots will replace the homophobes. When their children rise again to meet us, when they mount their own social wars, our kind will be there to fight back against them. They have dragged us from our beds and beaten us in yards across America. They have beaten us in the streets with police clubs, stabbed us with knives, set us on fire. All for love. That’s the danger of love, the might of it, and it is ours.
“Love wins” has remained a common Gay Pride slogan, though I wasn’t sure it always did win. And if love did win, surely that victory was always met with its inverse and opposite — hate, fury — and those opposing forces would never go quiet. Love had to remain strong, teeth bared, ready to fight.
Their love may be fueled by faith and churches and an antiquated idea of a bygone America that should never exist again. They may see my love as the silly, limp-wristed thing it appears as on popular television. Or they may see it as a disease, a sin, an infection, a recruitment tool to corrupt their children, or all the above.
But I know what my love really is. M love is a beast, a dragon curled in its cave, sharp-clawed, eyes black as coal, and it’s getting hungry.