Monday, March 17, 2014

The Gay Man Who Sought a Straight Woman for Marriage

Note: A condensed version of this essay appears on USA Today's Happy-Ever-After blog today. Read this version to get the uncut truth....

If you talk to writers, especially fiction writers, about the question they get asked most often, I’d be willing to bet at least 99% of them would say the same thing—where do you get your ideas? It’s a question that’s as silly as it is profound. Who knows where inspiration comes from, really? We can give a glib, smart-ass response, like “On eBay,” but the truth is where an idea hails from can often be as much a mystery for the artist as it is for his or her ultimate viewer.

In my case, I was asked that question a lot about my latest book, Legally Wed, which is a romantic comedy about a gay man’s journey to finding real love. I would say, as a resident of Washington State and as a gay man who married his husband on the very first day that same-sex was made legal here, that it was that historic event which inspired me. In fact, that’s the very line I’ve given to interviewers about the book. I’d tell them something like:

If you read the opening to the book, you know what inspired me. It was when Washington state legalized same-sex marriage. My now-husband and I were some of the first people in line down at City Hall in the wee small hours of the morning to get our marriage license on the first day we could. There was such joy at City Hall that morning, both from couples getting their licenses and the employees and supporters who had come out to witness this historic moment. I wanted to write about not just love, but marriage and to do it in a framework that examined both. It’s one of my most heartfelt stories and, in many ways, mirrors my own life.

It’s that last line, “mirrors my own life” that later gave me pause and made me realize where I truly got my inspiration for Legally Wed.

The whole time I was writing the book, I thought I was just writing a kind of lighthearted tale about a gay man, disappointed in love and hungering for the commitment he saw in his own family of origin all around, getting drunk one night and, on a lark, placing an ad on Craigslist: Gay Man Seeks Straight Woman for Marriage.

It wasn’t until long after I wrote the book, gone through the editing process, and saw the book for sale on bookshelves that I realized my inspiration did not come from just wanting to write, in a fun and touching way, about the hot topic of gay marriage, but how my own life mirrored the book. I think that correlation had been buried deep in my subconscious the whole time I was writing.

See, I was the Gay Man Who Sought a Straight Woman for Marriage.

Unlike my main character in Legally Wed, though, I did not come up with my idea one drunken night. No, my idea, like my main character’s, was borne of a deep-seated desire for commitment and family. For a young man who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, the road to that fulfillment was through marriage, to a woman. Thirty some years ago, when I married the female love of my life (let’s call her Alison), there was no other road open to me for marriage and family.

In 1982, the idea that two men or two women could get married? I’m sure I thought at the time: never gonna happen. It was so far out of reach as to seem like the stuff of fantasy or science fiction.

So I met Alison and here’s the thing: I fell in love with her. I adored her. She made me laugh. We had a great sex life (sorry, son, if you’re reading this—more about you later). We were a team, a kind of you and me against the world.

Unlike my main character in Legally Wed, I was not drunk when I proposed. No, I was filled with hope and with the dreamer’s belief that if someone really wanted something bad enough, he could have it.

People ask me: did you know you were gay when you got married? And I tell them, yes, I knew. I had had the feelings from as far back as I could remember. Heck, I was a huge Bette Midler fan at 13—that should have told me all I needed to know!

But seriously, knowing something and accepting it are two different things. I knew I had these feelings, but I pushed them deep down. I refused to examine them. And I knew, with my relationship and marriage to Alison, that those feelings would go away. After all, I loved a woman. I had sex with a woman. I couldn’t be gay, not really. My hope led me to the belief, supported by many more people now back then than today, that I could change.

That change would make me a better man, a better member of society, and ultimately happier.

But like Duncan in Legally Wed, I was to discover that the marriage of a gay person to a straight one was destined for disaster. It took seven years, the birth of our son, and the intervention of a very level-headed and compassionate therapist to help me see, at last, that I was not some damaged thing, needing to hide my true self away from the rest of the world, wearing a mask. It took seven years (and probably a lot more before that) for me to at last put down the sword and the shield and stop fighting with—myself.

Like Duncan in my book, I realized that I could love and even adore women, maybe even at times prefer their company to the company of men, but ultimately, I needed to be who I was.

It was very hard to say goodbye to Alison, to no longer live under the same roof with our then six-year-old son. But I could no longer live a lie. There were tears, recriminations, court battles, bitterness, pain, but I’m glad to report that all three of us came out the other side still loving one another.

My Duncan and his intended, Marilyn, go through the same struggle, in a much more compressed time frame, and came out understanding that, even though they were not meant to be a married couple, they were meant to be great friends and truly love one another. Their friendship and closeness is a bedrock message of my book.

And, to this day, my love for Alison, even though we’re separated by many miles, continues to be a bedrock for me. I can never remove, nor would I want to, the place she has in my heart. We have a child together and that alone bonds us for a lifetime. Like marriage.

In Legally Wed, Duncan does find his true love, when he least expects it, when he’s essentially stopped looking for it. The same was true for me. I thought, after I divorced, I would find a parallel relationship with a special guy. And I tried on, let’s just say, many, many pairs of shoes. But none of them fit.

Like Duncan, I gave up. And two months after giving up and deciding that I would be just fine living alone in my dream vintage apartment in Chicago, I met him. That was almost twelve years ago now and he completely spoiled my plans for living alone and the freedom to binge on ice cream and vodka at three a.m.

And I couldn’t be happier. Bruce is the man I stood in line with at City Hall in the wee hours of the morning of December 6, 2012, to be one of the first couples in Washington State to obtain our marriage license. We had a small wedding three days later, in our home in front of the fireplace with our Boston terrier, Lily, at our feet. Even though Bruce and I had been together for more than a decade by that point, we both realized when we woke up the next day as a married couple that we felt different. More committed. But mostly, more like a family….

To wrap things up, I mentioned earlier that Alison and I had a son. The irony about Nicholas was that he too, like his dad, turned out to be gay. When he came out to me in his senior year of high school, I was shocked and a little unmoored. Believe it or not, I had no idea. I asked the question no parent of a gay child should ever ask (and certainly not one who was gay himself!): are you sure?

Of course he was sure. We are sure of the color of our eyes, our height, and everything else that makes us unique. It was a dumb question and one I will forever regret.

I hope that I was able to make up for my initial reaction a few years later, when Nicholas met the love of his life and told me they were going to marry. By then, he had moved to Montreal, where marriage was legal for all people in love, and they would be able to make it official.

Would I be willing to officiate? One of my many happy endings that I am thankful for is that I got to preside over the wedding of my son and his husband, to help see them off into the world together. I thank God Nicholas faced only in small measure the hardships, prejudice, and bigotry I did. He is now a champion against those things and I couldn’t be more proud of him. And I couldn’t love my new son, Tarik, more.

Bruce was among the happy assembled that hot day in August when Nicholas and Tarik said their vows. Our own marriage was still a few years off, still something hoped for, but not something we were at all certain we would ever be allowed to have, which made the day slightly bittersweet.

Also among the assembled that day was my son’s mother and my former wife. We celebrated together and couldn’t have been happier for our son, poised on the brink of a life together with his beloved, full of hope.

That day, my mind naturally, strayed to two other weddings, one in my past and another—hoped for—in my future.

The thought came to me then (and maybe I squirreled it away in my subconscious for a book I would write one day when the time was right): all these marriages I thought of on my son’s wedding day shared one thing: they were about love.

I realized that it's not about what's between our legs, but what's between our ears...and in our hearts.

Love is love.

Why on earth, or in God's name, would anyone want to deny that to his or her fellow man or woman? We can only be strengthened, as families, as a society, by encouraging and celebrating love and commitment.

Blurb
Love comes along when you least expect it. That’s what Duncan Taylor’s sister, Scout, tells him. Scout has everything Duncan wants—a happy life with a wonderful husband. Now that Seattle has made gay marriage legal, Duncan knows he can have the same thing. But when he proposes to his boyfriend Tucker, he doesn’t get the answer he hoped for. Tucker’s refusal is another misstep in a long line of failed romances. Despairing, Duncan thinks of all the loving unions in his life—and how every one of them is straight. Maybe he could be happy, if not sexually compatible, with a woman. When zany, gay-man-loving Marilyn Samples waltzes into his life, he thinks he may have found his answer.

Determined to settle, Duncan forgets his sister’s wisdom about love and begins planning a wedding with Marilyn. But life throws Duncan a curveball. When he meets wedding planner Peter Dalrymple, unexpected sparks ignite. Neither man knows how long he can resist his powerful attraction to the other. For sure, there’s a wedding in the future. But whose?

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1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to say that this is a really beautiful reality and I'm so happy for you. Your story struck a chord with me, but in a different way than you may think. To make a long story short, my parents divorced when I was 12, because my father caught my mother with another woman. This other woman lived with us long past the time I grew, moved out and had a spouse and child of my own. They were together, a couple, and for a long time I thought happy. This was not my mom's first experience with a woman. Even though she would never discuss it, I've heard the off hand remark of my mother with another woman before my parents were married. Anyway, my mom and this woman eventually broke up and to my knowledge my mom was never with another woman afterward. The problem is that my mom felt she had to live a lie. She would not, or could not for reasons I don't understand, admit that she was gay, or at least bi-sexual. Up until the day she passed away she lived in a world of denial. My brothers, sister and I so overwhelmingly believe that love is love it would not and did not make a difference to us. I think she married my dad because it’s what she thought she should do. I don’t doubt that she loved him, but it may not have been the first choice for her life. Instead, I believe her choices made her unhappy. That’s why I’m so overwhelmingly happy for you when I read this. You owed it to yourself and those who love you to live and love the way that is right for you. Thank you for this article (I read it first in USA Today.) Reading your story may make someone’s life better and happier.

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