I received a wedding invitation in the mail today from my cousin Jessie and her fiancé, a guy I’ve never met before named Matthew. It wasn’t supposed to surprise me, since last week Jessie e-mailed asking for my address. Still, I was caught off-guard when I opened the mailbox to find an envelope sitting there formally requesting “the honor of my presence.”
What I noticed as I opened it was the envelope the invitation itself came in. It was nicer than I expected. The colors were modest and elegant and the day it was celebrating was the wedding of my cousin to the man she is choosing to spend her life with. It made me think of my hometown back in Valparaiso, Indiana. It’s not much more than a bunch of farms, a few roads, and a University that I think sometimes prefers the minimal attention it gets from its location. I thought again about the lives there, that I notice I’ve sometimes forgotten. I thought about the small businesses along Route 30 when I saw the business cards for the two hotels they have registered at, and my mind drifted into nostalgia as I understood the idea of a homecoming a little more than I did when I was back there in high school.
Within moments of reading the invitation I had pictures in my head of her and Matthew on the day they have been planning. I pictured how surreal it must be for them to see all these people gather for them, just to see the two of them happy, to see them make such a significant commitment to their future. I pictured the couple’s anxiety the night before and the mountain of thoughts that must race through their heads about all the preparations, about for the first time getting a physical sight of the whole of their partner’s world and family. I imagined that the only relief could be the idea that even with all this the only thing that matters is whom they are marrying.
At this point I notice something. I am incredibly happy for Jessie and oddly even feel some relief that this could lift some of the uncertainties in life for her. It could give her someone to share in the joy of those moments I can only compare to when a child first discovers something new about life. I’m also happy she has someone to love and comfort her when darker thoughts make fear feel stronger than hope. But this is not what I’m feeling now.
As a boy I remember never understanding why people would cry at weddings. For me, now it is hard not to. I remember specifically four years ago traveling from Las Vegas to a little New England redbrick church outside Boston for the wedding of a good friend. He was marrying a girl he had been with for over 5 years and in that time I’d grown to know both of them relatively well and care for them equally. As Maria walked down the aisle I could see love in both the eyes of the bride and her groom. That day I understood tradition with a new clarity and what makes it so important. I could see the way Brian was looking at her too, completely exposed to all the witnesses there that this was the woman he had given his heart to.
When Maria entered into the church my eyes began to swell. She looked beautiful and like she was completely aware of the moment in her life and was both humbled by and embracing it. The only thing that felt appropriate to me was crying. When the tears began I noticed another feeling stirring that I didn’t ever think to expect before that moment. I think every girl probably feels this when they go to a wedding. There’s even the saying for it, “always a bridesmaid.” It’s a bit different when you are gay… somehow the humor in that expression gets lost. I was alone in a church pew feeling an incredibly blissful feeling for my friend that was countered by a realization that this day, this feeling and this experience might never exist for me.
A few weeks ago a friend said something that struck me as prfound. He said, “Other minorities, whether it be by race or a disability, generally can grow up knowing they are wanted and loved by their families. Gay kids can’t do that. Sure, you’re loved, but the damage is done when you grow up believing your family might not want you… that you cannot be accepted as who you are.” He was right. As a boy I could never let myself feel comfortable trusting my feelings. I didn’t feel safe revealing what I was beginning to discover about myself. That time in my life was about survival, although I didn’t have the perspective I do now to know that all my actions and the behaviors I was learning were far less about creating a future, as they were just surviving the day. Now, with time, I can see the most damaging part of my coming out was my inability to do it sooner.
Back when I used to walk down the streets of New York City, and through its gay ghettos, that same feeling of being an outsider that I felt with my family sat inside me there, too. I was discouraged by the amount of people I saw absent of the insight needed to craft a life above whatever addiction or escape is temporarily filling the void created in their adolescence. I notice myself envying my straight friends lives as I try to remind myself the grass is not always greener. I often wonder if the life that keeps me single and alone would be any different if it were just a little easier for a gay boy to grow up knowing it was clearly OK to believe in who he is.
All this, from a wedding invitation that came in the mail.