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How to Be a Guy: After Orlando

My transition turned my ‘straight’ marriage queer— and made my husband a target

This was going to be a different column.

It was going to be about height and social dynamics and being married to a really cool guy who’s also my best role model for thoughtfully approaching masculinity. It was funny and thoughtful. There were going to be Ninja Turtles.

And then last weekend, someone walked into a gay club in Orlando and opened fire with an AR-15.

I woke up last Sunday to a flurry of frantic emails and texts, and got online just as the names of the dead were being released. The first one was a guy I’d briefly gone to high school with. I held my breath as my Orlando people checked in one by one, and watched on Twitter as a colleague learned that his best friend was among the dead.

I looked at the love of my life, and all I could think was: This is the world I’m asking you to join me in.

My queerness has never been invisible, and it has never been unafraid. The year I came out — 1998 — Matthew Shepard was beaten to death in Laramie, Wyoming; he died the day before my 16th birthday.

When I was in high school and secure in the illusion of my immortality, I was still afraid, but it was a defiant kind of fear: pushing and daring the world to push back. I shaved my head and kissed girls on the street — and yelled back at passing drivers who had opinions about either of those things.

I was lucky.

I was so lucky.

I still am.

Miles and I got married in 2004, the September after Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon wed at San Francisco City Hall.

To describe our marriage as ever having been straight would be reductive, and largely untrue. It would mean assuming that sexuality starts and stops with practice; that commitment is synonymous with monogamy; that I was ever a woman in whatever absolute, holistic sense the rules of straightness require.

Still: We were never afraid to hold each other’s hands.

Lovers are not always so lucky.

In the wake of the Orlando shooting, the phrase “Love is Love” has popped up everywhere: trending on Twitter, painted in storefront windows. Straight friends post it, intending solidarity. And every time I see it, I bristle, because they are wrong.

Love is love, but for some of us, there’s no room for unconscious gestures. Even small intimacies call for acts of risk assessment. We learn: to case our surroundings. To keep up our guard. To walk with our hands in our pockets.

Love is love, but even in my liberal city, there are bashings. Some get reported; many don’t.

Love is love, but when my lady-friend and I drove from New York to Oregon in 2013, her mother was adamant that we should take the southern route through the mountains of Colorado, instead of shaving off a day by cutting north through Wyoming. We blew her off. She was a consummate worrier: In the months leading up to the trip, she had sent us dire warnings about everything from unseasonal ice to renegade deer.

But she didn’t stop insisting, and she wouldn’t tell us why. Finally, we sat down with a road map and realized that the north route would take us directly through Laramie.

Oh.

And even though we knew there was probably no real risk, we drove through Colorado. There are fates no parent should ever have to imagine for their child.

Love is love, but sometimes, love is the terrible and difficult choice to ask your beloved to paint a target on their own back.

Miles is straight, or historically straight, or historically mostly straight. I came into my queerness organically; he came into his by marrying a woman who took the next decade to figure out that she wasn’t, and choosing to stay. He’s slept with men, but never without a woman involved, and he’s never been romantically involved with another man.

On one hand: I am so lucky. It’s exhilarating to be together in a community that I’ve always been part of and Miles never really has. We joke: After 10 years of strangers and great aunts assuming I was straight, he’ll finally get a turn being the one perpetually misinterpreted.

On the other hand: I am teaching him to be afraid.

There is no lesson here. No moral, no triumph, no takeaway. Sometimes love is enough. Sometimes it’s not.

And I’m really, really scared.

Jay Edidin is a Portland-based writer whose work has appeared in Playboy and Wired. How to Be a Guy is their column about transitioning.

More from Jay Edidin:

How to Be a Guy