There is so much to say about this rally and what it signified for me that I can’t possibly fit it all into a blog post. This is one for my therapist, certainly, but it’s something I had to write about, too.
Just to get my head around it.
It is not about food. It is not a rant. It is more of a ramble, really. No neat opening or closing. I just feel the need to put it out there, that’s all.
I went to my first rally in ages yesterday morning. This is no small thing. I don’t like crowds. Especially large crowds of the same mind. The threat of a stampede dangles an elephant foot somewhere north of my rib cage, making each breath I take measured, if not labored.
I have never felt comfortable moving in sync with thousands of others. When crowds shout and cheer, I stand among them, quietly, nodding my assent rather than shouting it.
Small wonder I didn’t last long as high school mascot. While the cheerleaders chanted and flailed their arms and legs more or less in unison, I stood on the sidelines in my coordinating sweater with arms folded, pouting and observing, but not participating. I sensed that I did not belong. My father sat in the stands, his head buried in a book of crossword puzzles, trying to mask the disappointment that his son preferred a viking helmet to one of the football variety. I was happy, however, to know he was there, that I somehow had his support.
Well, that was then. Things change, and I found myself sufficiently motivated to swallow my little phobias and actually become part of a large group to show a bit of unity with my gay brothers and sisters. And my straight ones, too.
I stood near the front of the crowd at City Hall on Saturday morning, with a “No on 8” sign shielding my head from the sun. I hadn’t thought to make my own sign until that morning and, for some reason, the slogan that popped into my head was “God Si Love”.
At first I thought it would just be some clever, E.M. Forrester reference that, hopefully, one or two well-read people might get. And then I thought about it a little more. In the novel A Passage to India, those words were scrawled on the wall of a temple by someone who lacked a good, working knowledge of the English alphabet. Of course, it should have read, “God Is Love”, but they got it wrong. It suddenly seemed entirely appropriate, given the rally’s theme. In the name of passing this proposition, people have taken God’s words– His love– and twisted them around, rendering them, if not meaningless, absurd.
They got it all wrong.
As the speeches began, I ran down my personal casualty list for Autumn 2008. The right to marry? Check. My father’s support by virtue of his voting in favor of the proposition? Check. The man with whom I had convinced myself I wanted to build a future? Check. Not as a direct result of the election but, in a real sense, as a result of the self-loathing and feelings of unworthiness that creep into our gay DNA– those wonderful little cancers that develop over a lifetime of living with just this kind of homophobia, now so wonderfully institutionalized.
That’s what really, really makes me angry.
I will spare you details of my relationship, beyond the fact that I loved him. And that he loved me. I was certain of it. After three years of developing a relationship with several dramatic twists and turns, he told me he loved me, that he supposed he always had, but wasn’t ready before. Now he was. He was certain of it.
But he wasn’t ready. He ran. And he ran fast. The only reason he shared that made any real sense to me was a mumbled comment about his own sense of inadequacy, and never once looked me in the eye. And then some other things happened that just screamed self-defeat. Of course, I could be totally wrong, but I don’t think I am. He had once told me that I was someone who “really got him.” That I understood him. I don’t know if he knows how much.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen that kind of behavior before– cheifly in myself. I’ve done the same thing, though at a much younger age. Everything was lollipops and kittens until the man I was with told me he loved me. Then I squirmed, I ran, and I was very cold, very cruel. I cast a shell of lead around me that his kryptonite, as powerful as it was, could never pierce. I understood later that I was in love with him, too. I spent years self-flagellating as a result, and have since spent my time trying to wriggle out of that toxic armor.
As I stood among the crowd thinking about him, I tried to keep myself from getting sucked down into that emotional Charybdis and focus instead on the important issues at hand, like the bizarre Conestoga-themed speech by Carole Migden and the shouts from the back of the crowd of “Louder! Louder!” that I heard as “Chowder! Chowder!”, thanks to the boys blowing horns in my ears off my left shoulder. I was cheered by the resulting comment my friend Scott made that all this sun and talk of marriage was making him crave a hot, milk-based soup. That was all I needed to pull me back. I was there supporting a cause I believe in among friends I care about. I was looking forward with hope that someday this whole nightmare of homophobic legislation would be just that, a bad dream.
Well, that lasted about two minutes.
I did physically what I had just promised myself I would not do metaphorically. I looked backward. There were a lot of clever signs about and I decided to turn around to get a different view.
And there he was, not ten yards behind me– the man who would have understood my sign, had I made it.
From a quick scan of the crowd, I had caught his forehead, the unmistakable shape of his ears, his glasses. I had been thinking about him so deeply just a few minutes before, I thought I may have conjured him, but he was there. No mistake about it.
His last communication was a cold, hard, three sentence email telling me to never contact him again. My response was an angry, dire prediction of how his life was going to fall apart.
I faced forward again, making no mention of his presence to my friends, trying very hard to act as though nothing had happened.
But something did. My anger had melted or, at least, refocused. The man with whom I have felt my deepest connection, the man who had pierced my own armor, was there with me, but entirely out of reach. At a gay marriage rally. Oh, irony. Sweet, sweet, capital “i” irony.
In the revised, film version of my life, the Rally scene would play something like this:
Long shot of crowd in front of the City Hall in San Francisco. Close up of Michael smiling under his sign with the words “God Si Love”. Michael turns around in the crowd, sees Mr. X, and turns forward again. Slight, sad shift in his smile as he hopes no one sees.
Close up of hand being place on Michael’s shoulder. Michael turns around to see Mr. X. standing behind him.
No dialogue would be necessary. The look of love tinged with sorrow over absence, things said, and life-lessons learned would be enough. Arms entwine. Camera pulls away to long shot of the crowd. The Voices of Walter Schumann hum hopefully.
Of course, that didn’t happen. I turned around a few minutes later and he was still there. A few minutes more, he was gone.
When he broke things off, Mr. X, an avid reader, was immersing himself in the works of Henry James– a man who explored such cheerful themes as jilting and betrayal. At our last meeting, he shared with me that James was getting a bit too depressing, that he was moving onto E.M.Forrester. Howard’s End, to be exact.The opening words of that novel? “Only connect.” Forrester spent his writing life exploring the complexities and ironies of relationships as, more or less, an observer–another gay man on the sidelines. He never had a lasting, meaningful, loving relationship with another man. Just with his mother.
At the rally,of course, Mr. X and I did not connect. I saw him. He must have seen me. Neither of us made a move and an opportunity was lost.
At that moment, I would have told him that I was sorry for the things I said, that I hoped to God what I had cruelly predicted for him does not come true, and that, perhaps, as gay men, there was already enough hostility against us that for two people who once loved each other to feed into it and direct it at each other was too much to bear. And I would have told him I understand– no matter how difficult it is for me to accept the situation, I understand. I’ve been there, too.
But I didn’t say those things. My pride was hurt.
In a sense, isn’t that why we were all at the rally? Our Pride has been hurt. And we’re angry.
We’ll I’m still angry, but I’m angry at the people who created this frightening piece of legislation we all gathered together to protest, I’m angry with those people who chose to vote for transparent discrimination, and I am angry about how this sort of evil has infected all of our lives, both physcially and– more damaging– emotionally. But I can’t be angry with him. I just don’t have the heart for it. Rally, I don’t.
My hope for him is that he finds the strength to finally slay that terrible demon he carries inside him– that many of us carry inside ourselves– that tells him he is somehow inadequate and undeserving of the love he has historically kept at such a distance. I am working on that one myself. I once hoped we could slay our demons together. I hope, even if it is not with me, that he can find someone with whom he can one day connect. Really, truly connect.
Rally, I do.