When I was a boy, my third-grade teacher asked me in whose footsteps I would most like to follow and I said Farrah Fawcett-Majors. It was during a unit on heroes, and the rest of the kids in the room had just given the names of a butch athlete, astronaut, or politician for whom their parents had voted. For me, though, the only obvious answer was that most famous of '70s celebrity hyphenates.
"Yeah," Mr. Bolen replied, chuckling conspiratorially with the rest of the class. "I'd like to follow in her footsteps, too, heh-heh."
Everyone laughed, but the joke was lost on me. This was before I grasped irony, before I knew I had to be the first one to laugh at myself, before I had to understand such jokes in order to survive. Why wouldn't someone want to be Farrah Fawcett-Majors? She was a gifted thespian with great hair, the No. 1 show on television, and a dazzling union with the Six Million Dollar Man. To 9-year-old me, that was living, man.
I think of that kid every time gays and lesbians in this country take another history-making step forward into legislative acceptance. That kid, who never had a single positive conversation about the validity of becoming a man loving another man, would never have believed that one day the front page of The New York Times would read: "Hundreds of Same Sex Couples Wed in Massachusetts." My dreams were tied up in who I was told I could never become, so much so that there's no telling how different my life would be if I'd grown up in a world that held up gay marriage as an ideal. I don't know how great an ideal it is, but I think the only people who should be concerned about it are gay.
No one can tell me I shouldn't be allowed to marry. Now that I'm an adult capable of forging my own reality, I can't even believe it's an issue. I feel as removed yet somehow as integral a part of it as I did about gays in the military—won't be enlisting any time soon, but will bite your head off for suggesting I can't join the ranks. Listening to the endless media debate is like overhearing strangers discuss whether or not I'll be given permission to take in Shrek 2 over the weekend: I may never want to experience the big, cheesy thing, but I'll be damned if anyone is going to keep me out as long as I'm willing to pay the price of admission. Gay unions are fleeting? The divorce rate will skyrocket? So? Gays and lesbians have every human right to be as messy, ill-advised, unprepared, offensive, and just generally stupid as everybody else—and reap the same legal benefits for said stupid behavior. Children are adversely affected by having parents of the same gender? Our general sexual permissiveness will produce wanton libertines? What's your point, counselor? Homosexuals have the freedom to vex, derange, and otherwise permanently damage our children just as surely as our parents did.
Our lives will never be unassailable—they're imperfect, and I'd like to meet the saint who says he's qualified to cast the first stone my way. I hate that many homosexuals feel the need to profess the selflessness of elderly nuns in order to get societal approval, when anyone with a television can tell you that most of what straight people are up to on a daily basis has nothing to do with making lepers feel good about themselves. The last time I checked into Elimidate, a regular Mother Teresa was busy telling some wasted lothario that even though he'd just called her a whore, his apology was sweet enough to take him to the next round. These two geniuses can later book a chapel, consummate their union under God's watchful eye, and pop out a few Einsteins without the president considering a constitutional amendment. Hell, their little chip off the old block may one day be president. But I'm supposed to be content begging for a civil ceremony just because I know how to have a good time on Fire Island?
The marriage debate has me feeling affectionate and protective toward all the things I usually can't stand. I find myself cherishing my status as an outcast, rationalizing circuit parties, and embracing the fat, hairy men and sagging women determined to walk down the middle of the street wearing nothing but a leather thong in the Pride Parade: They don't need my permission to flaunt their shortcomings, and, hey, the world seems to go on turning regardless of whether they get it. I like that people have disparate ways of living their lives. I like the families we've constructed whose bonds are just as strong without the benefit of blood or bureaucracy; they already feel official to me. What's so great about the way the rest of the world lives that we should need its approval?
I'm too much a child of the movies to not want to fall in love, and a world that recognizes gay love as a goal would be an immeasurably healthier place for us all to be. The self-hatred that makes boys and girls of so many gay men and women would, I think, start to recede into the past; gay kids could grow up making the same dumb romantic mistakes that straight people take for granted as part of adolescence. But it's OK with me that some of our desires are different, that they'll always be different—to say nothing of the aspirations of the transgendered community, whose dreams are always conveniently scuttled to the side in favor of queers who more closely resemble Middle America. The more homosexuals step toward assimilation, and the more my heart leaps at the thought of gay relationships being considered "normal," the more I think of that flaming 9-year-old kid who just wanted to be Charlie's angel, because I'll tell you, there's one of those kids born every minute, and no amount of I dos is going to make that kid's dreams conventional. I don't want gay marriage to go down as somehow completing us, as though we had something missing that heterosexuals are now so generous to bestow on us. Let this amazing, monumental, and, yes, inevitable change in American culture be not an end to the way we look at being gay but a beginning. Let's not think of gay marriage as a way for the rest of society to respect us—because, really, who cares?—but as simply one of many new ways for us to consider each other.