Twelve years. Ten years. Two years. Thirteen months. And six months. This is the timeline–a narrative–of a movement, of a man, of a love story still being written.
I was thirteen going on fourteen when Lawrence v. Texas came down. I was a year past my Bar Mitzvah, saw no place for myself in Judaism anymore. On the one hand I felt I had learned everything the faith could teach me; on the other I was realizing I didn’t belong. The Supreme Court’s decision must’ve been in the news. I know now the striking-down of anti-sodomy laws was the first earthquake in a series of many since the turn of the century that brought forth the fire and brimstone of unadulterated Christian hatred, but back then, struggling to accept my fluid beliefs, my sexuality and how others saw it wasn’t in mind.
That year, 2003, rolled away with a breakdown of marriage–before 2004 was up, my parents had separated, divorce papers filed after a year and a day, and my siblings and mother had moved into a just-almost-too-small duplex in Public Housing where we’ve been since, every sound carried no matter how close to silent it might be.
Ten years ago I turned sixteen. It was the summer of hype and horror stories over Brokeback Mountain making its way through theaters. I’d only ever heard of gay people on TV a few times before. Once the news said some disease was more common among gay men, but before the story was up, my parents interrupted dinner to turn the TV off. Two other times TV shows we watched regularly had a gay or lesbian character on ’em, and my parents said we wouldn’t watch those episodes. Naturally, in secret, I went back and watched both of them, never knowing how much those shows being pushed out of sight would make me push myself out of sight when my own turn came to be censored.
I’d be lying to say I didn’t know by then I was attracted to men. While my mom worked in the kitchen at my synagogue, before I even turned twelve, I’d lie down in boredom, close my eyes, and imagine riding shirtless down a highway in the passenger seat of a red topless Lamborghini. The bright sun turned to salty condensation down the driver’s chiseled chest, he looked at me through his sunglasses, I melted back into the seat.
For a time I convinced myself it was only a higher strain of existence: the Greeks, after all, had prized male beauty above all else, and hardly that was a bad thing, right? Except all my dreams of marrying my best friend at the time ended with her and me being divorced, me a single dad, and then in a strange sort of inversion because my mind didn’t know how else it could happen, my son was my age and we were raising other kids together.
But imaginings meant nothing, I figured I just hadn’t met the right girl yet.
Then Jack Twist didn’t know how to quit you and even if the news wasn’t turned off then, the disgust in all the reports and reviews, and the fireworks as Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal looked up, one of them running naked and leaping into a lake. It excited me.
So only a few months later when I met a boy and my heart somersaulted and my lungs caught and my stomach knotted up, and we shook hands, mine sweaty, and my knees wobbled, my breath came slow, and my blood rushed like lava in my veins, I knew then there’d never be any girl I’d wait for, and by then I finally had a word for my feelings.
Except whenever gay was on TV, either my parents turned it off or the newscasters spoke with scorn, so I didn’t tell him my feelings and I most definitely kept it all to myself.
I remember standing in bookstores, awkwardly hanging around the queer lit section, paging through gay erotica, all I knew then of LGBT culture or what I was feeling inside. But I couldn’t bring any of that home, so instead I opted for a different direction, a collection of short stories called Close Range by Annie Proulx, the last one being “Brokeback Mountain.” And I read a few of them, lying back on my father’s couch, but her writing was dense and country and didn’t have any flare for fantasy, so I shelved that book and didn’t look back–but for ten years, I kept it, pledged someday I’d finally finish it.
After that I went through a number of changes, identity crises. I tried to convince myself I was bi because it seemed like life would be easier if I could hold out for a woman, but I knew I wasn’t, and I gave it up not long thereafter. I fought myself, fought my feelings, finally had to face both of them as I found my way back to faith. Each step chipped away at me till I finally found wholeness in being a pile of dust and broken bits.
I went to Israel, came out in quarantine (that was the summer of swine flu) to defend another kid two other boys were teasing, and by the time I got out of the ward, I had been outed on campus. Not a single one of us eighty or ninety teens didn’t know I was gay. But a strange thing happened, how I knew about it: One of the guys there, he sat down next me, casually asked if I had a boyfriend back home. It was the first real glimpse of acceptance I had ever had for being gay, and it made up for his later attempts to examine my sex life in detail, if I topped or bottomed, if his collection of straight porn could get me up.
I started college, came out to my parents, not necessarily in that order, became president of our Gay-Straight Alliance, learned there was such a thing as transgender, began to gain all the confidence I’d eaten up by shunning myself all those years before. Then I graduated, transferred to a new school, made my share of mistakes, and fell in love a lot.
It was only a few months before things got spicy when, this day in 2013, the Supreme Court spoke again in United States v. Windsor. It was a victory, I remember–much like I was yesterday and today–watching the live blogging of the news, words I never could’ve imagined only a handful of years prior, before I even knew there was such a thing as blogging. And I celebrated, sure we all did, but I didn’t know (so I thought) any man I’d be marrying soon, and marriage by itself was still a pipe dream in North Carolina.
Then fate shuffled the deck, love hit hard and fast and at a distance of 1,600 miles, and I was sitting outside the library mid-November looking up federal immigration benefits for same-sex couples. And they were there now, and it became a block I built to keep going. In fact, Harel and me, we spoke about marriage before we even spoke about dating, both of us up front what we wanted in a relationship, love, life, the whole thing–and it would’ve been easy if we’d disagreed, if we had thought maybe it wasn’t worth it, but as the messages back and forth piled up, one thing was clear: we wanted all the same things.
Convincing my mother to let me fly to Mexico to meet a man I’d never met in person before was perhaps the hardest part, but thinking of him, thinking of us gave me strength and bravery I didn’t know I had, enough to ask the impossible. So then thirteen months ago, mid-April last year, we met in person, and when being together was everything and more than we could’ve imagined, we did everything short of buying rings and getting engaged.
(That, my friend, came in August.)
Which brings us around to the last twelve months, drowned in school from the day the Supreme Court let stand lower court rulings and that day in mid-October year last when North Carolina’s judges opened the floodgates of love for same-sex couples to marry. Harel and me patched together our fiance visa application one bit at a time, all my years of hoarding emails finally paying off as we compiled supporting evidence, and finally the end of February, we mailed that beast in and began the long, ongoing wait for approval.
Back in December, right up to but not including New Year’s when we we were together last, we weren’t thinking what the Supreme Court might say, what it’d make of June 26, the same days when both Lawrence and Windsor were read aloud the first times. Even six weeks ago when the summer started, I wasn’t thinking of the rulings–not immediately, at least. But three or four weeks back I read the oral arguments, set myself for waiting.
Instead I was thinking ahead, to getting married, probably next year if I had to predict, though it can’t happen soon enough, to moving out of NC up to Milwaukee where I’ve been accepted to the Teach for America corp., so naturally, I’m trying to whittle down my belongings, clear the shelves so it’s less to bring across state lines. I made a list, day after I got home, of all the books I meant to read this summer–Close Range finally in it.
And last night, after ten years of waiting, I reached the last story in the book, “Brokeback Mountain,” and as I read it I laughed, and as I read it more, I wanted to cry. I can bet Proulx never spoke to a gay man what it’s like to have sex, but she got the intimacy right, almost too right in places, like after Ennis and Jack part for the first time, not knowing what’s next:
Within a mile Ennis felt like someone was pulling his guts out hand over hand a yard at a time. He stopped at the side of the road and, in the whirling new snow, tried to puke but nothing came up. He felt about as bad as he ever had and it took a long time for the feeling to wear off. (p. 264)
I felt the same on the days I left Harel, on April 20, August 17, and December 30. Every gut-wrenching maneuver I knew, and it brought me closer to both of these boys.
Then I kept reading, closer the end, and it hit me the kind of unbridled love and intimacy Jack admired, desired, how it made him burn, and I’d quote the whole passage if it weren’t so long, but the words were too beautiful not to mention, to ignore:
What Jack remembered and craved in a way he could neither help nor understand was the time that distant summer on Brokeback Mountain when Ennis had come up behind him and pulled him close, the silent embrace satisfying some shared and sexless hunger. …
Ennis’s breath came slow and quiet, he hummed, rocked a little in the sparklight and Jack leaned against the steady heartbeat, the vibrations of the humming like faint electricity and, standing, he fell into sleep that was not sleep but something else drowsy and tranced … . (pp. 278-279)
It brought me back to all those times, in nothingness, Harel and me cleaved to each other in silence, shared and blissful, no words marring the moment, nothing left to understand but the love we held for each other, that electricity and sparklight and heartbeat vibrato.
I missed him more than I could put in words, sent him a text message right off the bat knowing full well he wouldn’t get it till morning, and I tried to sleep. I curled up in a ball, tried to recall his heat warmth and fire. My arms moved through the darkness for anything to hold to, a body, a hand, and I found my own, one hand holding the other like I was trying to pull myself up, and I thought back to the first full night he and I spent by ourselves, how the room was so hot it was unbearable to touch to sleep, how we held hands all night just to have each other before the cold air settled in and we curled up with each other.
Watching the live blogging this morning, not sure if the case would fall today or Monday, when they said “Marriage” my stomach dropped and my head got highwired and wouldn’t stop pounding until thirty minutes later when the Supreme Court moved to the next case.
Ennis and Jack, though fictional, lived back in a time when just being gay was still illegal in the United States, a time that only really ended twelve years ago with Lawrence. Even then, the thought that someday same-sex couples could get married across the country, move freely, it was a thought foreign to each of them. Jack tried to convince Ennis to move in with him, to have a ranch together, but Ennis was too full of the too-real fear that looking a bit too queer would get ’em killed, and even with marriage rights, that’s still a fear today. Maybe not as much as Jack and Ennis faced, but enough still, especially if you’re trans.
Yesterday ran into today like sweat and musk into a shirt, will pass into tomorrow just as it fades over the years, hung hidden on a nail in a closet, the last memento of lost love. But for the rest of us, for those of us still living, not imaginary but real and breathing, it’s not the end. The rights to work, to adopt, to access the healthcare we need, it’s still ongoing.
And for me and Harel, so is the wait. Because unlike Ennis and Jack, we’ve been born to a world where we can name those feelings, where we can say “I love you” without fear or shame, where we can make happen that life together that Jack so desperately wanted.
It’s still a long way off, still a spot on the horizon while we wait for the government to look at our petition and while we fundraise to afford the costs, but in just three weeks I’ll be back there, in his arms and him in mine, knowing six months apart is six months too many.