In my nearly six years of living in Philadelphia, I’ve fallen for this city. I want to buy a house. I want to stay. And until May 20, 2014, when a U.S. District Court overturned Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage, I didn’t think I would ever be able to.
At an early age, around 13 or 14, I started having fantasies and feelings about boys that I’d never heard anyone else talk about. The only queer pop culture references I’d been exposed to were Jack from “Will & Grace” and Pedro Zamora from “The Real World: San Francisco.” Feeling so different from everyone else, I decided to pretend it wasn’t there, to never admit (to myself or to anyone else) that I might be queer, to hope for a miraculous conversion, pretend that I was straight, and pray for it not to stick.
Years later, at the age of 20, on the back porch after dinner one summer night between my sophomore and junior years of college, I came out to my mom as bisexual. And I really believed I was. I told myself over and over again: You know you want a family, and you know you want a “normal” life, so you’re probably going to have to be with a woman, eventually, for good, even if you’re experimenting now with homosexual lust.
She cried. And I was terrified and exhilarated. It dawned on me that, although I’d told myself before then that I was strong enough to survive without the boundless love of my parents, maybe I actually wasn’t.
It turned out I wouldn’t have to face those consequences for a few years, because my mom and dad chose not to disclose — to anyone. My mom spoke to her sisters on the phone every night, but they wouldn’t confront her with a “We know” until I was in graduate school.
Coming out, coming around
In those nascent years of my developing queer identity, from ’95 to ’03, I was coming to the stark realization that I might never get married. That I might never have kids — something I wanted very much and still do. That I’d be existing in a queer world dismissively characterized by drugs, disease and addiction in many corners of pop culture.
And that voice was always there for me: It’d be easier if you could just get it up for a woman. It might not be too late. Maybe you haven’t met the right woman yet.
But I reached a turning point right after graduating from college. My parents threw a going-away party for me before I flew across the country for the University of Oregon a few weeks after my commencement. We drove in two cars to my grandmother’s house in Springfield, Massachusetts, because I was flying out of Bradlee. About 10 minutes before we pulled up to the house, my dad asked me, “Are you going to date men and women in Oregon, or just men?”
I sheepishly said probably just men.
As soon as we got through the doors, I said I wanted to take a quick shower, and I sobbed as the water ran over my head and back. It was a moment that, in my heart of hearts, signaled a surrender to my purest inclinations of emotional and physical attraction. I conceded defeat. There was no turning back.
The nation begins to change
May 17, 2004, marks the day that Massachusetts made history as the first state to allow every citizen within its border the right to marry. And it’s been like dominos since then, interspersed with a handful of setbacks like anti-marriage and anti-adoption amendments, with a big fat vote of confidence from the man himself, President Barack Obama.
In my mind, he walks the walk and talks the talk. I knew it was a landmark moment when we elected him. I’d been living in Philadelphia for five days, and the city went nuts with impromptu parades and celebrations. His imperative to facilitate the breakdown of the Defense of Marriage Act is, as I see it, responsible for the victory we achieved on May 20.
The next morning, sitting with a laptop in a cafe in Point Breeze, I felt like I could meet someone any day who could be my husband. That we could build a life that’s even more healthy and robust than what I had been willing to force myself into for the sake of a marriage and a family 12 years earlier. Now I feel like it’s not going to be an uphill battle anymore. I’m no different from anyone else in this city, and that’s pretty much all I’ve ever wanted.
When Gov. Tom Corbett announced he would not appeal the decision, I fought tears reading news source after news source confirming what I believed was impossible even weeks prior. I wanted to leave my desk at work so that I could take a walk to just scream relief and privately weep. There was a time where I truly believed this day would never come. It set in a weird calm — there’s no rush. It’ll take a great deal of effort to overturn this. The bigots have lost. It’s simply the law.
Finding my home
For the simple sake of equal rights, other states, such as my home state of New York, had looked like a better place to settle down. But now I don’t have to leave. The life I’ve built around myself here, professionally and socially, doesn’t have to be jeopardized by bigoted lawmakers. The same-sex marriage ban that too many have held to so tightly to marginalize normal, boring queers like me — who want a job, who want a decent place to live, who want to create a family with someone they love unconditionally — has been defeated.
It’s still hard to believe. But there are hundreds of thousands of people, gay, straight, queer, bi, lesbian, trans or otherwise, who’ve fought way harder than me to make this a reality. They’ve been louder, more sure of themselves, more determined than I was to see this victory, and three weeks later, it’s still a surreal moment that feels really good to bask in.