Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Becoming real

When I was a kid, I expected life to be a certain way, and that way did not include being true to myself. I simply couldn’t imagine that one day I might be a full citizen.

When I was a young teenager in the early 1970s, a house was built at the end of my street, near where I caught the bus to high school. The house fascinated me because it was unusual: A duplex, or, two houses that shared a common wall, which was like a kind of mirror, reflecting one house to the other. I’d never seen anything like it before.

It wasn’t the construction that fascinated me, but the possibility that it provided, a solution to allow me to possibly live happily ever after.

The duplex as it appeared around the time of this post.
As that young teen, I came up with a complex (though imaginative) plan: I would find a male partner and together we would find a lesbian couple and we would pair up for opposite-gender marriages. He and one woman/wife would live in one side of a duplexed house, the other woman/wife and I in the other half. Or, so it would appear: We’d cut a door inside so that, once in side, we could go and live with our real partners.

The idea was to camouflage the reality of our living arrangements, and I realised that a drawback was that we had to have a way to get from one side to the other quickly in case someone dropped by unexpectedly. I imagined secret doors to make it easier to get from one side to the other unseen, the doors themselves hidden to keep the secret.

As a kid and still as that young teen, I assumed that one day I’d have to marry a woman because that’s what I was supposed to do. I wanted to be with another man, but I just didn’t see how that could ever happen. Ever.

Within a few years, I was telling my mother that I’d never get married, the closest I ever came to actually coming out to her (my parents died before I got the chance). That was my less complex plan.

A few more years later, I became an activist fighting, as I put it at the time, for social and legal equality for LGBT people. I meant things like anti-discrimination laws and other things that would make the world a little less hostile. While I may have dreamed of full equality, I couldn’t really imagine it, a few legislative successes notwithstanding.

That’s because I knew that our relationships were still vulnerable, even if we hired lawyers and drafted the reams of documents and contracts that people—well-meaning friends and enemies alike—said was the best we could do or expect to protect ourselves. I’d seen too many cases where a bigoted judge swept all the documents aside when they were needed the most.

But then I moved to New Zealand, with its more relaxed society and greater tolerance. I felt safer. Civil unions came around in 2005, and we eventually took advantage of it to increase our legal safety. Although everyone we knew considered us married, and referred to the ceremony as our wedding, to me it just didn’t seem the same.

Now, that’s all changed. Young LGBT Kiwis will never again grow up with institutional inequality to ensure that they never feel quite as good as their heterosexual friends and family members, not like a real a citizen. Now, they’ll grow up with the expectation that they can meet the love of their life and, if they want to, they can get married, or not, just like everyone they know. They can be real citizens—no, they can be real people.

To be sure, there’s a long way to go before we have full equality, and that’s in general, not just about LGBT people: There’s much work yet to be done. And, it’s important to note that this enormous victory happened because of the work of all those who went before. But tonight is for simply celebrating: New Zealand took a huge step toward full equality, and that is a wonderful thing.

So at a moment like this, I have to I look back at that newly-out young man, struggling to make the world a little less hostile. I remember that closeted young teen who concocted a bizarre web of deception to find happiness. And I remember the child who got society’s messages that he wasn’t as good as everyone else, not a real citizen—not a real person.

I survived all that because I ignored it—maybe not the best strategy, but it allowed me to grow up and learn that I had a right to live happily ever after, too. Today, society has acknowledged that fact, too, and that’s the best feeling ever.


Roger Green said...

love the duplex story! congrats.

Jian said...

well 2013 proved to be a great year for marriage equality, with Uruguay, New Zealand, and France /England to come. It's been amazing.

I'm sort of glad that we live in this era of transitioning, The world is increasingly becoming less hostile, but not quite there yet. we can see progress day by day, and it can only get better from here. I feel lucky to live this exact era, but also lucky that I live in the generation that has it easier (than your generation).
Your story about the side by side houses are very interesting and touching.
Congrats to NZ joining the other 12 countries!

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Thanks! I've never told the story in print before. Seemed like the right time.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

I feel extremely lucky to have lived to witness all this change, since so many of my age peers didn't. This IS a remarkable time to be alive!!