I’ve tried to keep some semblance of privacy around my life since the blog audience has grown but, for a brief moment in time, I’m going to suspend that rule and write to you like I would have circa 2009 when it was mostly just Aunt Donna and a few other readers. Being so exposed makes me uncomfortable but I feel like you deserve it. I’m not sure how long I’ll leave this publicly accessible. For tonight, I’ll lift the veil, even if only a tiny bit.
Both of us are just now getting a chance to sit down and read through the comments you left since I posted about our home state of Missouri shocking everyone and announcing that it will recognize the fact Aaron and I are married. We, and I’d wager the roughly 10,798 other people affected by the Attorney General’s decision to abide by the court ruling, are still in disbelief that it happened after all of these years. It has been a long, expensive, and emotionally exhausting journey, with a lot of personal heartache and frustration, the extent of which we might, someday, share beyond this post. A few of you already know the details, but it’s one of those things we rarely discuss, even among our closest friends, because it’s an area in life where the pain inflicted by others, including some of our own family members, is so deep, no level of rationality can stop the hurt; no amount of time will heal the rift. Sometimes, things just suck – life doesn’t come with a guarantee it will be all sunshine and roses – so the only acceptable way to behave is to deal with the challenges, forge ahead, and do the best you can.
To each and every one of you who wrote, offering your congratulations and well-wishes, both of us want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts. It’s hard to overstate what it means to us.
For those of you who didn’t realize we were married, I feel like I should apologize. It never really crossed our minds a few of you didn’t know Aaron was my husband for the same reason I just assume you know I’m male, or white, or have brown hair, or speak English, or am from Kansas City. While I try to keep a tight control on mentions of family after the “great purge” a few years ago when half of the site’s posts were put behind a protective wall following several events, including someone tracking down my grandmother at work and demanding she tell them how to get me on the phone as well as parking in front of our house and staring at us, we weren’t hiding it, at least not intentionally (those days are long behind us). We’ve spoken with some of you in the comment section about the fact we were considering a move to California because the laws would make it easier for us to have biological children through surrogacy in the next 4-5 years since we’re ready to start a family. Between that, the matching wedding rings, joint house, joint business holdings, joint investment accounts, middle-of-the-night cooking marathons, the same set of godchildren, the same sets of nieces and nephews, the Christmas mornings, Thanksgiving afternoons, birthday dinners, shopping excursions, and the outings with my in-laws, it’s so second nature it’s taken for granted. Aaron’s story is my story. Not only have neither of us ever even dated anybody else, we didn’t even really date each other. It was like a Disney movie. We met as teenagers, fell in love, and lived happily ever after.
For future reference to the handful of you who thought he was my brother, I have one brother and two sisters. My brother’s name is Caleb, he was in the United States Air Force, earned a degree in biology, was recently accepted to medical school, and is married to a girl that went to high school with all of us named Tara, who is now a teacher.
A Gift of Awkward Teenage Photos of Teenage Josh & Aaron
To make up for any misunderstanding you may have had, Aaron and I offer a gesture of goodwill in the form of a Throwback Thursday post of awkward teenage pictures. (I don’t want to go search through the albums so I’m using the first two I find of each of us.)
A Reflection on the Personal Side of the Marriage Battle
Though I’m only 32 years old, those of you who are younger can’t really appreciate how inconceivable this week has been for a lot of us. Since the Missouri post, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals added 5 more states to the 11 states the Supreme Court effectively took care of earlier this week, making Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska among the newest places that will have marriage equality in short order. There is a lesson here about what Charlie Munger often mentions for those building wealth – that you go for years plodding along, making progress, when suddenly the payoff comes in huge, short-term bursts that seem to appear out of nowhere. It’s the nature of the universe.
Growing up in the 1990’s, the world was so different it’s easy to forget if you weren’t the one trying to hide the secret, constantly being reminded that nobody can find out about you if you wanted to have any chance at a decent life. That world, the one in which I spent my youth, was one in which large, publicly traded companies such as Cracker Barrel actively sought to purge gay employees from the ranks through mass firings. The television stations and newspapers were filled with coverage of a college student out in Wyoming who had been tied to a fence, beaten until his brains were spilled onto the ground, and left to die for eighteen hours. The United States military dishonorably discharged soldiers, stripping them of their pension and health benefits if they found evidence they were gay. Religious leaders regularly preached sermons like this one, saying that gay people were drug-fueled rapists, sex addicts, and child predators possessed by the devil, hell-bent on ushering in the rise of the anti-Christ. Parents threw their children out of the house, disowned them, and cut off support until they “chose” to be straight.
One of the most destructive cultural influences of the past century, James Dobson, used his non-profit Focus on the Family empire to wage a war on gay people, particularly young gay people, writing books about how they could be cured, fighting anti-discrimination laws, and constantly reminding parents they had to do everything they could from letting this “evil” enter their household. (Some of the myths he pedaled decades ago have found their way into fundamentalist culture and survive even today; e.g., there are churches in Missouri that still pass out tracts like this one, which says that gay people are possessed by evil spirits that cause them to be infected by AIDs because they were molested as children.)
The message that being gay was the worst possible thing that could happen to a kid showed up even in the most unexpected of places. During football practice in the elementary school league in which I participated, one of the drills the coach made us do – we were 10 year old children – was called “smear the queer”, in which the mock gay person had to sit on his knees and get tackled, one by one, by the entire team (because that’s what you did to someone if you found out they were gay – you beat the crap out of them).
Even the rich and powerful weren’t immune from the vitriol. When Oprah Winfrey, arguably the best known and wealthiest person in media history, merely appeared as a guest star in the episode of Ellen in which the comedian’s character came out of the closet, she later confessed it caused her to receive the biggest avalanche of racist hate mail she had ever experienced in her entire career. Ellen’s show was cancelled and she was blacklisted from Hollywood for several years. Studio executives were sent death threats. Chrysler pulled their ads off the air to avoid appearing to support “Ellen Degenerate”, as Jerry Falwell famously branded her. Earlier, Ellen’s own family had kicked her out of the house and forbid her from having contact with her younger family members for fear they would “catch it”. In a very real way, that woman stood on the front lines, completely alone, and took the bullets for the rest of us.
On a personal level, when Aaron and I met and fell in love as teenagers, our relationship was literally against the law in parts of Missouri, punishable by 1 year jail time and a $1,000 fine if anyone found out about it. (When we flew home for Thanksgiving in 2001, I remember holding hands on the plane and having to put a jacket over the armrest in case anyone saw us. Because we couldn’t risk saying, “I love you” out loud when others were around, we had a signal between us so even in a crowded room, if we had to go our opposite ways, we could say it before parting. You cannot imagine the fear.)
That Missouri law remained in effect until the Supreme Court struck it down in a 2003 case called Lawrence v. Texas. (Missouri wouldn’t remove it from the books until 2006, and even today, Kansas governor Sam Brownback will not recommend to the legislature they remove the non-enforceable criminal statute from its books, simply to send a message to gay people.) In fact, around the time Aaron and I met and first became friends, being gay was a crime in Montana, Rhode Island, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, Minnesota, Arizona, Virginia, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kansas, Florida, and Alabama.
When Massachusetts began allowing gay couples to get married, it set off a panic. In August of 2004, shortly before we left Missouri to return to New Jersey at the start of our junior year of college, 71% of the people around us – including our friends, our parents, and our siblings – went to the polls and passed an emergency constitutional amendment prohibiting gay people from getting married. It was the first such constitutional amendment in the nation and sparked a chain reaction in nearly every other state.
By the time Aaron and I wanted to get married, we couldn’t as bans were in place in almost all 50 states of the Union. The complexity it would have introduced to our personal and business lives had we traveled to one of the handful of states that permitted it would have been impossible to untangle, while providing us none of the benefits. We were forced to watch many of our friends and family members get married, and though we were happy for them, it was bittersweet they took it for granted.
Finally, when the courts began to strike down the bans, we couldn’t wait anymore. We went to get married and, in something that was unthinkable to us coming from the huge, close-knit family we do, several of our relatives didn’t attend the ceremony. One went so far as to liken us to drug addicts on a binge; showing up would somehow be akin to us inviting them to watch us shooting up heroin, if I remember their analogy correctly. Others said that “everyone has temptations” and insisted God expected us to marry women, anyway, even if we didn’t love them. A few outright told us they thought we were lying because we didn’t “seem gay”. One broke down in tears, saying she knew we had been together our entire lives but repeating, “Why do you have to get married? Why do you have to make it official?” A few didn’t even tell us they weren’t coming to our wedding. They just didn’t show up.
The thing is, they were under the mistaken impression we were asking for their blessing. In reality, we were inviting them to be part of our lives.
One of the clearest memories of my life is on the night of our wedding, after the guests had left, the lights were off, and the doors were locked. Standing in our bedroom, the weight of being let down in a way so profound by those who had claimed to love us most finally hitting us with full force, Aaron began to cry, which made me start to cry. I took his face in my hands, looked into his eyes, and realized, in that moment, I had just made the single best decision of my life. If spending the rest of my time on Earth with him meant losing everyone I cared about, it was a bargain. He would win every single time.
Sometimes, I wonder if going through all of this is what made both of us want financial independence so strongly. In my case, my parents losing everything, and the desire to avoid poverty, was the primary catalyst but as I got older, I think that changed. It became an equal part wanting to not have to do anything so I could spend my time how I saw fit and an equal part defense mechanism. You can’t evict us if we own the building. You can’t cut off our income if the stock certificates and bonds are registered in our names. In a way, every dollar bought us more freedom. For those of us raised during this time, achieving financial independence was like getting your hands on the red ring in the original Legend of Zelda. It was hard, but once you had it, it took a lot more effort for the enemy to take you down because your defenses were higher.
Would I change anything? It’s hard to say. I love my life. We hit the jackpot in so many other ways, and have been so blessed otherwise, at this point, it’s part of our story.
Update: My reaction to the Supreme Court legalizing marriage equality.