I grew up in a big city in the south. Unlike most childhood nicknames, I got labeled a fag from the time I was eight years old. I knew what I was at that age as I swooned over Sean Astin in The Goonies. My biggest dilemma of that time was wondering how everyone else saw what I felt. You might think it was just a few kid bullies using this name against a sensitive kid, but it was adults too. At that age, I was not afraid to stand against the tyranny of the adults and yet was knocked down by the truth. In that moment, gay, fag, faggot, queer — that was bad and I was it.
Three years later, my family moved to New England. I didn't realize I had brought an unwanted friend with me. Within the first days of school, I was being harassed. My parents resorted to telling me that it was about those kids' insecurities with themselves. I knew even more strongly who I was, but I needed desperately to shake this stigma. I decided to have a girlfriend. She was just about the best "girl friend" I could ever have. We talked about almost everything. But no one was fooled, not even her.
When I finally came out, I was 15 years old. It was as if I discovered the antidote to my misery and the hatred of others. I took the ammunition from those who wanted to harm me. The names stopped, the cornerings stopped, and some people started to befriend me. My parents did the cliché bit about it being a phase. Even still, I could live and breathe and did not need to watch my back for the next bully.
At college, this continued on campus, but something was looming in the town. In my junior year, two students were accosted by some "townies" who called the two males "faggots." While being beaten, they were called every derogatory homosexual name in the book. But the outcry came from the African American community, because the last thing they said as they took off in their truck was "White Power." My gay power seemed to vanish overnight. Beyond the illustration that people will hurt you merely based on their perception of your sexuality, the divisive issue of sexuality leaves few to fight beside you.
Now, I am a 28-year-old elementary-school teacher living in the Portland area who speaks not of having any type of relationship. I'm back to being secretive and trying to figure out who my allies are. I worry that the perception of my sexuality, if given validity, will lead some to indulge uneducated fears. I don't want to have to fight for my job. In fact, I was told to be ready to deal with adults who don't agree with my "lifestyle choice." My choice is not about whether to be gay or not — it is about how to be safest in this city because I am gay. One of those ways is to be discrete and another is to be anonymous. I am not proud of being a gay. I am proud of how I deal in society because I am gay.
Gay marriage is the antidote to this sometimes-lethal poison that is fear, with which I must deal. The legitimization of gay relationships by our government, albeit just the state, sets precedents that none can ignore. We honor the love or contract made between two consenting humans and bestow upon them all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities thereof. With the addition of legal gay marriage, there can finally be life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. My hope is that it grants me the ability to fearlessly love in the open as 90 to 92 percent of our society is allowed to do.