Growing up I was like most little Jewish boys: I dreamed of having my own family, a good wife, a few children, going to services on all the major holidays, going through the melodies like rote, work in the mornings, love in the mid-morning hours of the night. I had crushes on girls in my class, because they seemed to be images of the perfect future girlfriend and wife my typical Jewish upbringing had instilled in me.
I forget when my fantasies became unhinged, when my own personal and still unconscious desires began to take over the cultural ones that had attached to my blood and filled my veins. I recall, walking in the EUC while my sister was at college, thinking I’d have a son someday, my wife having left (in retrospect, I don’t think I ever gave a reason why she would leave; in fact, I don’t know if the leaving part was even her doing, I just recall us having a son, and then the relationship being no more; I was never her husband in my mind, only my son’s father).
My other imaginings were only even more complex. So strange, in retrospect, that I really don’t know how or why it took me so many years to identify what they truly represented. A good example: If I played through this image in my mind, my so-called son would somehow transform into a man my own age, and together we’d raise a family of two or three other children. It took the mask of family units I understood to show me unconsciously what I’d always desired: A family headed with two men, two husbands, a union that was completely foreign in my childhood.
Now that I’m older, some things have changed, yet others stayed the same.
My first relationship, if I’m being exceptionally honest, was with one of the girls in my Hebrew school class. We shared interests, could talk for hours. I thought that’s what love had to be. I believed our closeness could only have been described by love. Yet when she wished to move in for a kiss, every fibre of my being would resist.
It’s funny, these things, the excuses we make as children to explain the things only adults could understand.
My relationships with other men haven’t been remarkably more successful, but sometimes it takes a failed relationship, no matter how great or lasting it could have been, to realize that this little thing called love is worth more than one can imagine, and that sometimes it takes a broken heart to remember those who were never allowed to have a heart in the first place.
It’s easy to be thankful for love, when we have it, but there’s something more crucial here we don’t realize at play, something far more sinister and foreign than that blood-red organ beating in our chests. It’s decided by others, stamped into law, and decreed on our very lives. And it’s with that end in mind that I tell you today that I am thankful for little else, in this singular moment of the universe, than for the right to love.
What is the difference, you ask, between love and the right to love?
The difference is immediate. To illustrate: I now have had two long (if two and six months are long, at least) relationships with other men. Yes, some people were put-off, some even disgusted, and some stopped talking to me on account of my wishes even before I’d had either of them, but I’ve had them to largely no negative repercussions. I’ve also spoken, with interest, tangible interests, with more than a small handful of other guys. And I’ve had friends, and friends of friends, and celebrities on TV in relationships that have been stronger, longer, and more physically revealing than any of mine. And we’re all still here. No matter the health of our hearts at the end (if there’s been any), we have had no lasting ails because of them.
However, if I had lived in any of the direly homophobic nations out there in the world (Arab states and some in Africa, if my memory serves me as well as I’d wish it would), then I could have been killed at my first offense. I’d have never had that first spark of love, that first word of interest. Instead, I’d have been offed at once.
Here in the US, I know we all don’t share the same luxury I’ve had so far. I know people like Matthew Shepard and others have met the worst fate imaginable for being LGBT. And I know there have been children, far too many for any heart to bear, who have done the unthinkable because they believed this right was not to be had. Ever.
Yet I have hope, hope that this is a trend quickly becoming more normalized in our country, the right to love. I was just down in Jackson, MS, that city of which numerous people questioned me openly, “You’re willingly going to Jackson, MS?” And there I met a gay man who said it’s not as bad as you might think. Some people look at him awkward for the way he dresses, he says, but past that, it’s not that bad. And a friend from Tulsa I met said they’ve got a great gay scene there–and he’s a straight guy, so I’m sure it’s really great if even the people who aren’t a part of it know of it. And I met a handful of people from other southern states, and they were as open as could come.
Things are changing. Maybe not as rapidly as in New York, but change is coming. In fact, change is already here. One heart at a time, one interaction at a time, one soul to change the world, and it’s happening now. People are coming out, people are rewriting misinformation and breaking down stereotypes. We are taking back the word “gay” and the words “lesbian” and “trans” and “bi” and making of them what we want them to be–words of excitement, words of identity, words shameless and powerful and supportive, excellent, endearing, open and inclusive.
We’re changing the world. One look at New York and you know it’s happening. A few glances a little further south and you might argue, but it’s coming, slowly, slowly, but it’ll arrive if given enough time. Even well-known news anchors are saying it’s so. Anybody who knows, who understands, knows it’s happening now.
Right now, I can’t get married. Right now, I can’t adopt children. Right now, I can lose my job if my employer doesn’t like that I’m gay. Right now, I can’t donate blood to save three lives with one pint of warm red stuff. Right now, I can’t serve my country, because even though DADT was repealed, it hasn’t taken effect because bigoted people in the government are holding it back. But all of these doors will open, one by one, in the years to come.
Yet even so, for all the work that still has to be done, I have the right to love. Maybe a legal union is still a few years out, maybe children made safe under that union is even further out, but I can still love whoever I want wherever I want whenever I want and no one can stand in my way and change that. It’s the small things that we have to be thankful for when the world is against us, but right now, at least for me, the right to love isn’t too bad a stick to be given, when it’s still a promise of the future growing from all the hard work we’re doing.