I was born in 1961. I grew up in a time and place where sex, drugs, and rock and roll were things all the cool kids did. So was psychoanalysis. When I was in junior high, the adults in my town were divorcing, doing est, and using an alarming amount of slang. My church youth group performed Jesus Christ Superstar . We were the “hey, it’s cool” generation; our parents listened to Simon and Garfunkel, and kept their copies of The Joy of Sex on a high shelf.
And yet, despite all this open mindedness (or what I thought was open mindedness) no one I knew well was gay. In high school, I didn’t think much about it and in college, when I did wonder, I didn’t feel comfortable asking and no one was telling.
Then, in 1985, after a rather aimless year spent trying to figure out who I was and not finding any easy answers, I enrolled in graduate school in communications. I loved my fellow students. We were all around the same age, all interested in subtext and interpretation. We hung out in our well-used rental homes, drank jug wine, discussed the true meaning of Kiss of the Spider Woman, and shared our dreams for our distant future lives.
Over the first semester, I grew close with a guy I’d nicknamed (only in my head) as The Nicest Guy in the World. He’d grown up in middle class Illinois as one of four in a conservative Lutheran family. He was smart, kind, funny, and laughed at my jokes. I felt honored–and still do–to be his friend.
One day we were walking from class to our friend John’s house. It was an late fall day and the air was full of red dust. I have no idea what we were talking about but somehow our conversation led to him kicking the dirt as we walked and telling me, very slowly, he was gay. At that point in his life, coming out to straight people wasn’t something he did. His family didn’t know. I was the first friend he told.
I remember thinking “This is important.” I remember feeling thrilled he trusted me. I remember reaching out and grabbing his arm and giving it what I hoped was a supportive squeeze. I remember not being surprised. I remember feeling sad his family wasn’t the sort he could share this with.
What I don’t remember thinking is “This moment will change me.” And yet it did.
I’m happy to report that, in general, I’ve become as tolerant as I’d hoped I’d be back in the anything goes 1970s. And I’m sure part of why I’ve so embraced LBQT rights is that I’ve spent the past three decades loving someone who is gay. When I hear the soon to be outdated phrase gay marriage, I think about his and his partner’s joyful trip to City Hall. When I think about the importance of legal standing, I’m grateful they live in a place where being a (gay) husband is just that in the eyes of the law. My life now has many LGBT people in it and that seems wonderfully normal. But my friend was my first and for that I thank him.
When gay marriage was made the law of the land this week here in the States, I was overcome with emotion. To me, living in a nation where our second term black President gave a speech praising the Supreme Court’s decision to allow gay Americans to wed is almost miraculous.
This sense of joy was echoed in my social media world which is rife with people from Romanceland. On Twitter, author after author and reader after reader shared their joy. And this makes sense to me. Because what drives most of us who love romance is the belief that, no matter whom you are, love will make you happy. Romance feature heroes and heroines from almost every place you can think of. In between the pages of our novels, everyone who works for love deserves a happy ending. This week, that came closer to being the truth for the real world too.