I attended my first wedding when I was 8. The year was 1988, and I was a good Catholic boy who liked to sing Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now" (a song only girls were supposed to like) behind closed doors.
Like most things that took place in a church, the ceremony itself bored me. I wasn't too thrilled about having to dress up either. I thought wearing a sport coat and clip-on tie was a special torture reserved for celebrating the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not for my second cousin's nuptials.
My disappointment with the first half of the day, however, was soon forgotten. The reception had the largest cake I had ever seen and a bartender who fixed me an endless supply of Shirley Temples. There was also dancing. And tipsy grown-ups. Which made for the great combination of tipsy grown-ups attempting to dance.
Shy and easily embarrassed, I observed from afar as loose-limbed relatives in skinny pink ties and mint-green cocktail dresses did the Electric Slide. But when the DJ played "Walk Like an Egyptian," my favorite Bangles song, I put down my second plate of cake and ran to join them on the dance floor.
With my arms bent in 90-degree angles, I jerked my head back and forth in sync with everyone else. And when it came to the best part of the song, the part where they just whistle, a shiver raced down my spine. I decided weddings were pretty cool. I couldn't wait to have my own someday.
I had it all figured out. When inquiring adults asked, I told them I was going to marry a woman, and that exactly nine months after our wedding night she would give birth to our identical twin boys, Barry and Bobby, named after my favorite baseball players, Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla.
There was a second part to my plan, but I knew it was morbid, so I kept it to myself. Shortly after childbirth, my wife was going to die, leaving me the perfect excuse to never remarry. I thought being a widowed father of two sounded like more fun than a lifetime of holy matrimony with a woman.
It wasn't until puberty hit that I realized I didn't want a wife, dead or alive. I wanted a husband. But growing up in the sheltered suburbs of the Midwest, I didn't know of any gay people. Just being attracted to another man seemed wrong and shameful; being able to marry one was never a thought that had crossed my mind.
I was 22 and deeply closeted when my older brother got married. Thanks to an empty stomach and the cooler full of Heineken the wedding party enjoyed on our post-ceremony double-decker bus ride, I arrived at the reception feeling buzzed.
In the ballroom of a fancy downtown hotel, a long line of people waited to congratulate the newlyweds. Watching them, I realized that I would never have my friends and family doing the same for me. I wanted to feel angry, and bitter, and sad. But I didn't think those emotions were valid. I had accepted it as fact: Gay guys can't marry.
To keep my buzz going -- and more importantly, to keep those other emotions buried -- I continued to drink. When the DJ started playing later that night, instead of walking like an Egyptian, I created a new dance move: the London Bridge.
Out on the dance floor, I grabbed the bride -- my new sister-in-law -- by the wrists as my younger sister walked by. My goal was to trap my sister in between us, as if we were playing a childhood game of "London Bridge Is Falling Down." Instead, I connected the bride's hand with my sister's face. A smacking noise echoed on the dance floor, and blood gushed out of my sister's nose.
In the men's restroom, I tried to stop my sister's nose from bleeding all over her periwinkle bridesmaid dress. We received strange looks from the men coming in to use the urinals, but my sister -- who had also had her fair share of Heineken -- was too busy screaming at me to care.
"How could you do this?" she asked with angry tears in her eyes and a wad of toilet paper shoved up her nose.
I wanted to tell her it wasn't my fault, that I only drank that much to drown out the fear that I was going to spend the rest of my life alone, never able to marry. But I couldn't explain that without telling her I was gay.
Eventually, my sister forgave me.
And eventually, I came out.
Recently, my partner and I celebrated our five-year anniversary. We're not married, but we're fortunate enough to live in a state that would allow us to stand up in front of our loved ones and exchange vows. If we wanted to.
I was conflicted about getting married when it first became legal for us. In my mind, I was already fully committed to my partner; I wasn't sure that I suddenly needed a certificate or a ceremony to prove it. Besides, having a wedding -- my wedding -- still seemed like a strange and foreign concept. I had stopped considering it a possibility in middle school, when I realized I was gay.
But maybe that's a good reason to have one: to normalize it.
My brother and sister are both married now, and they both have kids. I keep picturing my nieces and nephews at my wedding. If one of them happens to be gay, I want them to experience the joy and optimism that an 8-year-old felt when walking like an Egyptian, instead of the shame and embarrassment that a 22-year-old suffered after smacking his sister with the London Bridge.
Regardless of their sexual orientation, I want my nieces and nephews to grow up thinking that it isn't impossible for two men to get married; it's normal. That's why I don't want to be their uncle who lives with his partner; I want to be their uncle who lives with his husband -- whom he will love and cherish until death do them part.
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