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When I was a little boy growing up in a small town flanking both Georgia and South Carolina, there were many expectations laid out for me. The first and most apparent was that I’d grow up to be a stereotypical boy. Then I’d do well in grade school, go to a really good college, find a decent job, and then get married.
Marriage was so important for a young black boy because much of my community doesn’t have that Cosby Show environment, but I did. My parents were married until my father died four years ago, and there was no doubt that my parents planned to go the distance. We had that stereotypical nuclear family; seriously, it was like something out of a TV show. This was supposed to be my blueprint, but of course I was different. At that point, I thought my identity was about who I liked, and as a kid, it was boys.
I remember thinking just how impossible it would be for a boy to fall in love with another boy. The only times I had ever seen it were in glimpses of TV shows and movies that led my parents — particularly my dad — to rush me out of room to keep me from seeing more. Or I heard about it in the barrage of insults other little boys would throw at me. It also didn’t help that I was raised Catholic and my parents were heavily involved in the church. Let’s just say, the odds were against me accepting myself. I knew that being gay would be seen as different, wrong, impossible.
In these days, in the mid-’90s, I didn’t know about the Defense of Marriage Act or all of the hurdles that queer couples were fighting to overcome. I didn’t know there were other people out there, like me, who wanted to at least have the choice to live and love truthfully. I felt alone in my desires and I felt ridiculous for thinking that all of that could change.
But as I got older and became addicted to the Internet’s infinite wisdom, I started meeting other queer kids in Yahoo! chat rooms, on various forums, and more. And then by 2004, I saw that larger glimpse of hope in Massachusetts. The state legalized same-sex marriage and I was pumped. Then I figured by the time I wanted to settle down, it very well migh be legalized throughout the United States.
We’re at an interesting turning point now. Any day now, we could be hearing that our country is finally ready to respect our humanity and our right to love and be recognized beyond gender.
It’s great, but as I’m a trans woman and activist, my focus has changed. I would be lying if I said marriage was the first thing on my mind. In fact, I’m regularly worried about adequate health care and doctors who know what’s up with my body. I’m lucky now, but there was also a time when I was worried I’d be outed and lose my job. Then I’d be in the spiral of homelessness that consumes much of my community. It’s true. Trans folk often have much more urgent things to worry about, like finding restrooms, validating educational spaces, housing, and more. As well, I can’t help but think about all of the trans women my community has lost this year.
It’s difficult when the larger queer community, which arguably has more social power and influence, ignores the fact that we can multitask. We can carry marriage equality as an issue alongside helping homeless and disowned queer and trans youth. We can rally behind the numerous trans people who are discriminated against and attacked every day. We can be more that a single-issue movement.
With all this in mind, I know the impact that marriage equality will inevitably have on all of us. While it will help cis queer people, no longer will trans people have to worry if their birth certificates have the “right” gender on them so they can marry the one they love. No longer will queer trans people have to worry about a conversation that largely ignores their existence.
I liken it to when President Obama won the 2008 election. I think that’s how it will feel. Even if I never get married, I know that I at least will have the option regardless of who I end up with. To see the first black president changed my thoughts on how our society operated. I thought that maybe, just maybe, black lives do really matter.
And I know what marriage equality would mean to others. There will be so many children out there who will at least know that they are worthy and valued because the government will recognize their love — even if they don’t even know who or what they love. There’s power in that.
When marriage equality is the law of the land, so many attitudes will change. There will be one less excuse that unaccepting parents will have as to why being queer is not an option. There will be so many unaccepting employers who will slowly change their attitudes and actively bring diversity into the workplace. Perhaps we would even signal other nations that have been holdouts.
There are so many people who now feel they aren’t enough who will be validated.